When in Doubt, Think Big!

  • Published
  • By Col. Dean Worley Jr.
  • 55th Electronic Combat Group commander
"The Air Force is getting smaller." "We're not going to have enough money, planes or people." We've heard similar sentiments over the last few years and there's an element of truth in them.

We are getting smaller. We won't have as much money and aircraft, and we can expect to stay in combat for the foreseeable future.

At this point, conventional wisdom would say, "It's time to hold onto what we have, be conservative and don't take risk." I disagree.

If we, as Airmen, are going to be thinking about the future and the value that the U.S. Air Force provides America, it's time to "think big."

I realize that paraphrasing the flamboyant Donald Trump might surprise many Airmen reading this. I'm not endorsing Mr. Trump's lifestyle or how he conducts business but he does raise a key point. When faced with adversity or challenges, instead of retreating physically or conceptually, the most effective answer might be to do the opposite and think big and bold.

As Americans and Airmen we already have a history of successfully taking risk and thinking big. At the height of the Great Depression when the American real gross domestic product fell 30 percent, a group of thinkers developed the conceptual foundation of a vision of airpower that ultimately led to victory in World War II.

It wasn't just an airpower concept that maximized the operational and tactical force application of the air arm as was the case with the Nazi German Luftwaffe, or a barrage of punishment bombing to the detriment of all other missions. Instead, it ultimately developed into a vision of airpower that included applying force throughout all levels of war, moving supplies and manpower around the globe, and providing reconnaissance capabilities to our sister services. It was thinking big on a vast scale, encompassing all aspects of the missions that an air force could perform across the range of military operations.

Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold worked with visionary members of the Roosevelt administration and what later became the U.S. Army Air Forces staff to overcome bureaucratic inertia and build tens of thousands of new aircraft.

In a very real way, the USAAF airplanes and crews used to devastate German and Japanese industry, force the Luftwaffe from the skies, enable the Normandy invasion, support the subsequent Allied drive to conquer Nazi Germany and render Japan prostrate without an invasion were the product of bold thinking that recognized an opportunity to provide a unique capability for the good of the nation. This capability in WWII was a proto-version of the United States Air Force's current ability to generate power, reach and vigilance rapidly on a global scale.

It's this ability to provide something of value to the nation that keeps our version of "big thinking" out of the realm of fantasy. Sure, I'd like to have paratrooping "sharks with lasers" mounted on their skulls in our Air Force, but what unique capability--what value would they provide to John Q. Taxpayer?

Of course, the value is nil other than providing one of the best lines from the Austin Powers movies. Even in this absurd example, there's a lesson: don't just think big, think "value added."

So what does this all mean? We know this is a time of immense technological, social and political change, in which we can communicate with ease around the world with personal devices literally at our fingertips. When you add the best educated and most combat-experienced Air Force in history, I see opportunity.

Opportunity to provide a unique capability for our nation to control the air, space and cyber domains with our lightning-fast and ubiquitous ability to reach, apply force, and observe any spot on the planet.

Do we have as many resources as we would like to make this vision happen? No. However, the citizens of our country provide the Department of Defense a tremendous amount of assets to protect American interests and lives.

We can make the most of those resources by seizing the opportunities inherent in the nexus of education, experience and technological advancement of the current decade. Doing otherwise will mean failing our nation's citizens and the ideals for which we fight.

Over 200 years ago, 56 men signed a visionary document during an era of immense technological and social change. They took on the might of the world's greatest empire with no navy, a tiny army, one-third of the continental population actively hostile to their cause, and an economy that wouldn't sustain itself. On July 4, 1776, these men signed the Declaration of Independence and won the decisive battle of the American Revolution at Yorktown five years later. They thought big, took the ultimate risk to their "lives and fortunes," and forged the longest lived republican-democracy in world history and the most powerful political, economic and military force today.