Selecting a degree or training program is a major decision with far reaching impact. Reasons for pursuing certain degrees vary, from improving one’s current skill set to achieving long term goals. One’s decisions may be influenced by class availability or the goal of “checking a box.” However, as educational technology and funding has increased, Airmen are no longer restricted to local programs. Today’s Airmen have more available educational options than ever before.
In the past, obtaining just about any type of degree was sufficient for most Airmen. However, the challenges facing our nation today are different. I challenge the new generation of Airmen to pursue a technical degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
A recent article in Defense News argued our Air Force is facing a critical shortage of engineers. In the last two years, the Air Force has experienced a 30-percent loss in the number of scientists. Currently, our Air Force and the Defense Department invest significant resources into various programs to bolster the STEM workforce. Despite this investment, Airmen and our fellow citizens continue to shy away from technical degrees. While countries such as China are increasing their STEM graduates, our country is falling behind in what some consider a new arms race. The need for these specialists across our Air Force and our country is soaring at an ever increasing rate.
Today’s complex and challenging operating environment is very reliant on technology. For example, the cyberspace domain is comprised of vulnerabilities and subsequent losses of security and data. Unfortunately, these threats occur well beyond the private user and have the potential to adversely impact the entire country. Stephen Korns, a notable cyber expert reports, “The DOD has lost terabytes of data equivalent to twice the holdings of the Library of Congress.” Since our Air Force values innovation and is reliant on technology, these threats are very concerning. For example, a loss of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter intellectual data to a malicious actor or peer competitor could adversely impact pilot training, critical weapons systems or operations.
How does STEM education and training help our Air Force remain agile, innovative and successful? There are two primary reasons. The first is to retain our Air Force’s technical edge. In the past, Airmen’s technical prowess and ingenuity contributed to scientific developments such as global positioning satellites and stealth technology which have increased the range, versatility and effectiveness of operations. The second reason is to focus Airmen on issues and data pertinent to air and space operations. Our Air Force has developed an enduring culture and unique personality driven by “Airminded” Airmen. In AFDD-1, Airmindedness, the perspective of Airmen is substantially different; it reflects a unique appreciation of airpower’s potential.
Due to our reliance on technology and innovation, our Air Force has much to gain or lose in this new arms race. Who better to meet these challenges head-on and help re-arm our Air Force than STEM educated and trained professional Airmen.