7
The Need for Action

STEM training, whether it leads to a STEM degree or just to STEM cognizance, provides the foundation for the technical competence essential to the effective and efficient performance of the mission of the United States Air Force. This competence must reside in Air Force military and civilian personnel if they are to perform their Title X responsibilities. While FFRDCs and contractors can effectively augment STEM capability in the organic workforce, they cannot replace it.

Over the past 20 years, the Air Force has elevated its capabilities and competencies in the development and employment of air and space power to an unrivaled level. The Air Force possesses a significant inventory and critical mass of expertise for a full spectrum of missions and operational weapon systems for air superiority; precision strike; air mobility and refueling; special air operations; airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and operational command and control. The U.S. military’s competitive edge depends on continuous investment in research and development (R&D), rapid fielding of enhanced capabilities, and rapid development of operational tactics, techniques, and procedures. Technical skills and expertise are critical across the entire range of activities and processes associated with the development, fielding, and employment of operational capabilities.

The ability to logically and quantitatively define operational needs, analyze alternative solutions and force structures to optimize systems and investment strategies, and document operational requirements and concepts to best meet those needs demands strong technical and operational skills and experience. Maturing R&D-based technology and the normal tasks and functions involved in the design, development, production, integration, and test of new and modified systems require in-depth engineering skills and expertise in the acquisition workforce. Fielding new capabilities depends on extensive testing and the rigorous development and validation of tactics and procedures, all of which demand rigorous technical processes and deep technical understanding of systems capabilities and limitations within both the acquisition workforce and the receiving operational major commands.

Further, there has been a depth of institutional expertise and infrastructure for systems development and testing, tactics development, and employment for these air capabilities and forces. Technically trained and experienced people have participated across the life cycle of systems development, sustainment, and employment.

In addition to sustaining and inserting new technologies and operational tactics into air and missile systems, new emerging capabilities and operational domains—specifically net-centric operations, unmanned air systems, space operations, and cyber operations—place extraordinary new technical demands on the Air Force. These missions and domains require unique new technical skills and competencies to effectively define, develop, field, and employ operational capabilities in these mediums.



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7 The Need for Action STEM training, whether it leads to a STEM degree or just to STEM cognizance, provides the foundation for the technical competence essential to the effective and efficient performance of the mission of the United States Air Force. This competence must reside in Air Force military and civilian personnel if they are to perform their Title X responsibilities. While FFRDCs and contractors can effectively augment STEM capability in the organic workforce, they cannot replace it. Over the past 20 years, the Air Force has elevated its capabilities and competencies in the development and employment of air and space power to an unrivaled level. The Air Force possesses a significant inventory and critical mass of expertise for a full spectrum of missions and operational weapon systems for air superiority; precision strike; air mobility and refueling; special air operations; airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and operational command and control. The U.S. military’s competitive edge depends on continuous investment in research and development (R&D), rapid fielding of enhanced capabilities, and rapid development of operational tactics, techniques, and procedures. Technical skills and expertise are critical across the entire range of activities and processes associated with the development, fielding, and employment of operational capabilities. The ability to logically and quantitatively define operational needs, analyze alternative solutions and force structures to optimize systems and investment strategies, and document operational requirements and concepts to best meet those needs demands strong technical and operational skills and experience. Maturing R&D-based technology and the normal tasks and functions involved in the design, development, production, integration, and test of new and modified systems require in-depth engineering skills and expertise in the acquisition workforce. Fielding new capabilities depends on extensive testing and the rigorous development and validation of tactics and procedures, all of which demand rigorous technical processes and deep technical understanding of systems capabilities and limitations within both the acquisition workforce and the receiving operational major commands. Further, there has been a depth of institutional expertise and infrastructure for systems development and testing, tactics development, and employment for these air capabilities and forces. Technically trained and experienced people have participated across the life cycle of systems development, sustainment, and employment. In addition to sustaining and inserting new technologies and operational tactics into air and missile systems, new emerging capabilities and operational domains—specifically net-centric operations, unmanned air systems, space operations, and cyber operations—place extraordinary new technical demands on the Air Force. These missions and domains require unique new technical skills and competencies to effectively define, develop, field, and employ operational capabilities in these mediums. 100

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The Need for Action 101 All these considerations point to a substantial need for STEM-related skills and expertise in the development, operations, and sustainment of current Air Force systems and in the fielding and operations of new capabilities. Within the Air Force, STEM-degreed and STEM-cognizant personnel are found in all major commands and work in all Air Force career fields or Air Force specialty codes. This workforce permeates every fiber of the Air Force today. It is therefore essential that the Air Force maintain and enhance its technical competency—a competency provided by the Air Force’s STEM-degreed and STEM-cognizant personnel. To date, the Air Force has benefitted from having significant numbers of STEM-degreed personnel not only in the 5 officer career fields that require a STEM degree but also in the 21 other career specialties. In many instances, these personnel were attracted to the Air Force because of the technology-intensive nature of its mission. Though not specifically recruited or managed by the Air Force, STEM-degreed personnel have contributed significantly to the overall technical competence of its workforce. Going forward, uncertainties about an adequate supply of STEM-degreed personnel who are U.S. citizens, together with the growing importance of mission domains that need advanced STEM capabilities, mean that the Air Force must actively manage the recruitment and retention of these valuable resources. As recommended in Chapters 4 and 6, it must establish appropriate recruiting and training requirements, develop competitive hiring practices, and provide viable career paths for all STEM-degreed personnel. The committee has further recommended that the Air Force define a functional level of STEM cognizance short of having a STEM degree (Recommendation 2-2), and that it should seek to recruit, retain, and provide career paths for STEM-cognizant personnel as well as its STEM-degreed workforce (Recommendations 4-1, 6-1a, 6-1b, and 6-2). As the challenges to the future security environment grow, the Air Force must prepare to address these challenges fully and rapidly. This will require a wider range of technical skills and a technically competent workforce—this requires action by the Air Force now!

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