Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin pledged in his first message to the force on Monday to forge ahead with plans to redefine the service as it faces a faster-paced, less-predictable era of war.
Allvin’s letter — an initial blueprint for the newly installed leader as he begins a four-year term — indicates the chief will continue a multibillion-dollar technology modernization push and deployment reforms designed to best China and move on from two decades at war in the Middle East.
“We face a security environment which grows more complex by the day and a pacing competitor which continues to advance at an alarming rate,” he wrote. “We have a responsibility to lead and advance the integration of the joint force. … We must now follow through.”
Allvin, who was sworn into the top job Nov. 2 after serving as vice chief of staff, now leads America’s third-largest military branch as it faces challenges on multiple fronts at home and abroad.
His confirmation comes as the Pentagon ramps up efforts to vie with China for military influence around the globe, outpace its weapons development and head off a potential invasion of U.S. partner Taiwan. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war at NATO’s doorstep has prompted the U.S. to take a leading role in a growing slate of international air training and deterrence missions.
And Israel’s burgeoning war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas has sparked fears of a wider regional conflict in the Middle East, even as the U.S. tries to shift its attention to the Pacific.
In his letter, Allvin signaled an appetite to continue his predecessor Gen. CQ Brown’s mantra to “accelerate change or lose” on the global stage — a message Brown has carried into his new role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pledging to support airmen and their families, transform military training and foster creative solutions to the Air Force’s problems, the missive laid out several strategic goals but few specific steps to achieve them.
“We must follow through on our commitment to the success of the team,” Allvin wrote. “It means uplifting our wingmen, while holding ourselves accountable … [and] removing barriers while maintaining and enforcing standards.”
Much of the letter focuses on the service’s acquisition goals, and achieving the right mix of combat assets that could prevail in modern warfare.
Allvin promised to turn Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s top priorities — a set of seven “operational imperatives” that range from hardening service infrastructure to bringing on new battle-management technology and the B-21 Raider stealth bomber — into “meaningful” reality.
That to-do list is at the center of the service’s plan to retire hundreds of aircraft it believes will be ineffective in future wars, and orient its proposed $185 billion budget toward developing and fielding cutting-edge tools that can process data faster and strike smarter than in the past.
As new assets roll off the assembly line, the chief wants to take a fresh look at how the Air Force will transition them into daily operations, like a fleet of artificially intelligent drones known as “collaborative combat aircraft” that are in development.
Allvin also said he will continue the Air Force’s efforts to revamp how it prepares for war and deploys units around the world. The service has launched multiple initiatives that aim to make deployments more predictable, with teams that train together ahead of time and arrive overseas as a standard package.
And he argued the service lacks the ideal organizational structure to compete with other world powers.
“This organizational design should focus on ensuring designated commanders can focus on training, readiness and warfighting,” he wrote. “Other commanders will focus on supporting capability development and sustainment.”
“All will be oriented on providing well-trained, equipped and ready forces for deterrence and conflict,” he added.
To field a healthy force, Allvin will need to reverse staff shortages among pilots and aircraft maintainers, according to Dave Deptula, a retired three-star general who heads the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies think tank at the Air and Space Forces Association.
The service also struggles to recruit and retain airmen to staff jobs that are key to 21st-century combat, such as cyber operations.
“If allowed to continue, [the shortages] will cripple the Air Force in our next major war,” Deptula said.
Some experts argue the service can’t achieve the transformation it wants without a major boost in defense spending.
“The biggest challenge facing Gen. Allvin will be to reverse the decline in the Air Force’s force structure,” Deptula said. “It is the oldest, smallest and least ready in its entire history. That is a result of decades of serious underfunding relative to the other services.”
One retired four-star general noted earlier this year that some of Allvin’s fiercest opponents may sit a few miles away from the Pentagon on Capitol Hill. He spoke to Air Force Times on the condition of anonymity while discussions of who to nominate for chief of staff were ongoing.
As the service tries to ensure it can prevent — or win — an air war with China, the retired four-star said, it must get lawmakers onboard with proposals that often clash with their parochial interests.
“It’s going to take some fairly drastic measures to let [the Air Force] catch up,” he said.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.