Innovation: The Key to Airpower

  • Published
  • By Maj. Phillip Wheeler
  • 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron
Since the days of the Wright Brothers, Airmen have been innovators, bringing the attributes of airpower to the battlefield. Exploitation of this third dimension by Airmen has been game changing. From the bi-planes of World War I, to the strategic bombers of World War II, to our current abilities to project power globally, there are more efficient solutions to our national security challenges. However, innovation is not only about technological advancement or the Air Force's ability to procure advanced aircraft. Innovation is the deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative to derive greater value from our resources and generate new ideas at an economical cost.

Is the Air Force paying enough attention to strategic innovation? The Air Force's mission has increasingly fragmented over the last few decades, but its culture and priorities still revolve around manned aircraft. Leading to the question, can Congress and the President depend on the Air Force to find new and innovative solutions to the nation's security threats or will it focus on the traditional mission set? Brigadier General (retired) Paula Thornhill argues that "The Air Force must fundamentally return to its original organizational culture comprised of a unique blend of military professionalism and innovative spirit."

Air Force history is steeped in Airmen that pioneered innovative ways to apply airpower. The Air Force must engage the inherent creativity of Airmen at all levels to find better ways to conduct business. Eric Fanning, Under Secretary of the Air Force, asked "Where is the next evolutionary change in air or cyberspace? If we cannot identify it, we may not be paying enough attention to strategic innovation." Fanning also asked "How the Air Force is shaping itself to be affordable and sustainable?" To meet this goal, the Air Force must empower Airmen to think creatively, take risks and allow room for failure in the pursuit of innovation.

The broad missions of the Air Force must be supported by an organizational culture that values innovation. The Air Force must continue to present itself as a service seeking effective and affordable solutions to problems. Airmen, regardless of specialty or domain, must understand their connection to military power, how it relates to national security and how present this to the American public. The service was born from innovation and the Air Force will evolve to meet the nation's needs for airpower. We must foster and value the creative mind and innovative nature of Airmen. The nation expects and deserves no less.