Defense

March 27, 2013

Blue Horizons: War College students look at 2035

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Randy Roughton
Maxwell AFB, Ala.

af-horizons
Each spring, a select group of Air War College students meet for BOGSAT sessions and collaborate in “murder boards” to help Air Force leaders make decisions on how the service will adapt to technological changes in the next quarter of a century.

For the past five years, Blue Horizons has investigated a future described as the “Age of Surprise.”

BOGSAT refers to an informal deliberative process Blue Horizons participants call a “Bunch of Guys/Gals Sitting Around Talking,” while the “murder boards” are opportunities for Blue Horizons participants to present their ideas to their classmates and faculty, who then “do everything they can to tear it apart,” said Col. Edward Vaughan, Air National Guard advisor to the commander and president of Air University and a mentor for Blue Horizons students, as well as a former participant himself in 2008.

“You have to have thick skin and be ready to hear somebody tell you that brilliant idea you thought you had when you walked out the door this morning wasn’t so brilliant,” said Lt. Col. Hans Miller, a current Blue Horizons participant and Air War College student. “At the end of the day, everybody’s there to help you out. I think that was one of the best things for your (writing) because you’ve got 16 really bright guys listening to you and giving you honest feedback.”

Vaughan said Blue Horizons isn’t designed to serve as the Air Force’s personal crystal ball. It’s meant to help the service’s leaders plan to respond to a rapidly changing technological world, as depicted in the CSAT video, “Welcome to 2035 … the Age of Surprise.”

“You’ve got the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Industrial Age, and people talk now that maybe we’re in the Information Age,” Vaughan said. “Things change so fast, and if you believe in the exponential acceleration of technology, then what’s going to happen tomorrow is a complete surprise. So the question becomes how is the Air Force going to remain relevant in an era when what the enemy and our allies might do is a surprise, as is what happens on the world economic scale. While we can’t predict all of those outcomes, we can prepare ourselves to be as agile and flexible as possible, so we can quickly react.”

Since 2007, Blue Horizons has been the Air Force’s most long-range plan to produce annual briefings for senior leaders to anticipate future technological development. It is intended to answer questions like those addressed in “Air Force 2025,” an Air University study done in 1996, and another technology study completed in 2007, said Harry A. Foster, CSAT deputy director.

“What didn’t we talk about in 2007?” Foster asked. “We didn’t talk about Facebook, and we didn’t talk about Twitter because they both were still very new that year. We certainly didn’t talk about an Arab Spring that would arise out of technologies or would employ the technologies heavily as enablers three years later. That’s sort of the problem with this technology forecasting – you don’t know what you don’t know. But what we do know is that cyber will continue to rebuild itself. It’s the technology that’s moving so quickly and is the most difficult to forecast.”

CSAT’s Blue Horizons program recruits student volunteers from the cream of Air War College in-residence students for Blue Horizons, a process also applied to its sister program Cyber Horizons and the AWC Grand Strategy Program, said Col. Thomas D. McCarthy, CSAT director.

“The most important outcome of Blue Horizons and Cyber Horizons efforts are their students,” McCarthy said. “They may not become experts in any specific field, but they graduate with a broad and integrated understanding of technology, an understanding they will apply to research and strategy in the future.”

“(Our students) are little pieces of yeast that you throw out into the dough of the service, and they continue to bubble away and produce good things,” said Ted Hailes, transformation chair for the Air Force Center for Strategy and Technology at Air University. Hailes is credited with contributing the “Age of Surprise” term.

The five main areas of technological advancement by 2035 that Blue Horizons is currently investigating are biological and nano technologies, directed energy, additive manufacturing or 3-D printing and cyberspace, McCarthy said.

Each year, students like Miller and Navy Cmdr. James Wiest produce papers and group technology assessments from more than 100 scheduled hours of instruction and research, and collaboration with classmates, not to mention many hundreds of more hours on their own time.

The CSAT faculty then integrates student work into one briefing and sends it first to Headquarters Air Force Operations, Plans and Requirements, and then to the chief of staff.

Some of the work is published on the CSAT website, but the benefits of Blue Horizon aren’t just in what the students offer in their research, but also in what they take themselves to their next assignments and throughout the rest of their military careers.

“The chief is getting blue-suit views on blue-suit issues,” Hailes said. “But more importantly, although we’re doing a study they can put on the shelf, we are also returning to the officer corps 16 to 32 officers who have gone through this program. That’s where the real power of the program is – Airmen we put back into the officer corps who will become the senior leaders who will be making the decision as to where the Air Force should be going and what systems it will procure.

Our role is taking superb officers, giving them an exposure to an educational area they have not previously explored, and better equipping them to deal with what the future’s going to hand them as future leaders of the Air Force.”

The ultimate purpose for Blue Horizons is to help inform and prepare the service’s leaders to handle whatever surprises that might be waiting in the next 25 years.

For more information, see the CSAT website at http://csat.au.af.mil/index.htm, or the Blue Horizons youtube page at: http://www.youtube.com/user/bluehorizons2040feature=results_main.




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