Technical capabilities have always been critical to the military missions and roles of the U.S. Air Force. These capabilities are rooted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Air Force’s technologically intensive mission has historically been highly attractive to individuals educated in the STEM disciplines. Airmen with such knowledge and skills have played significant roles in career fields across the Air Force, with the science and engineering (S&E) and acquisition career fields receiving the most obvious benefits. The result has been a technically literate force capable of dealing with the development, fielding, operations, and sustainment of technology-intensive systems.
Yet for a variety of reasons, concerns have arisen over the future of both the military and civilian contingents of the Air Force’s STEM workforce. One such concern is the growing technical complexity of both traditional and emerging capabilities required to fulfill Air Force missions. A second concern is that the environment in which the Air Force now must compete to recruit and retain STEM-educated personnel who are U.S. citizens is becoming much more competitive.
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. All this is especially true for the Air Force. The Air Force Strategic Plan 2006–2008, for example, begins its section on Air Force Goals with the statement:
To ensure we can execute our mission, today and always, we will build and sustain the world’s foremost air, space, and cyberspace force. The Air Force will provide Joint Force Commanders the air, space, and cyberspace capabilities they need to conduct integrated interdependent combat operations (USAF, 2006a, pg. 9).
Both acquisition personnel and personnel in the receiving operational major command must acquire a deep technical understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the advanced systems and platforms on which the Air Force depends. The ability to define operational needs logically and quantitatively, to analyze alternative solutions and force structures that optimize systems and investment strategies, and to document the operational requirements and concepts that best meet these needs demands strong technical and operational skills and experience. The Air Force’s acquisition workforce requires personnel who possess high levels of engineering skills and experience in technology R&D and the tasks and functions required to design, develop, produce, integrate, and test new systems, as well as to modify existing ones. Fielding new capabilities requires technical processes, extensive testing, and rigorous development and validation of tactics
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1 Introduction Technical capabilities have always been critical to the military missions and roles of the U.S. Air Force. These capabilities are rooted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Air Force’s technologically intensive mission has historically been highly attractive to individuals educated in the STEM disciplines. Airmen with such knowledge and skills have played significant roles in career fields across the Air Force, with the science and engineering (S&E) and acquisition career fields receiving the most obvious benefits. The result has been a technically literate force capable of dealing with the development, fielding, operations, and sustainment of technology-intensive systems. Yet for a variety of reasons, concerns have arisen over the future of both the military and civilian contingents of the Air Force’s STEM workforce. One such concern is the growing technical complexity of both traditional and emerging capabilities required to fulfill Air Force missions. A second concern is that the environment in which the Air Force now must compete to recruit and retain STEM-educated personnel who are U.S. citizens is becoming much more competitive. THE IMPORTANCE OF STEM CAPABILITIES TO THE AIR FORCE 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. All this is especially true for the Air Force. The Air Force Strategic Plan 2006–2008, for example, begins its section on Air Force Goals with the statement: To ensure we can execute our mission, today and always, we will build and sustain the world’s foremost air, space, and cyberspace force. The Air Force will provide Joint Force Commanders the air, space, and cyberspace capabilities they need to conduct integrated interdependent combat operations (USAF, 2006a, pg. 9). Both acquisition personnel and personnel in the receiving operational major command must acquire a deep technical understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the advanced systems and platforms on which the Air Force depends. The ability to define operational needs logically and quantitatively, to analyze alternative solutions and force structures that optimize systems and investment strategies, and to document the operational requirements and concepts that best meet these needs demands strong technical and operational skills and experience. The Air Force’s acquisition workforce requires personnel who possess high levels of engineering skills and experience in technology R&D and the tasks and functions required to design, develop, produce, integrate, and test new systems, as well as to modify existing ones. Fielding new capabilities requires technical processes, extensive testing, and rigorous development and validation of tactics 12
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Introduction 13 and procedures. As chapter 2 describes by domain and mission area, competence in STEM disciplines is critical to every domain in which the Air Force operates. 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 now possesses significant levels of STEM competence for conducting 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. A deep level of expertise exists, along with the necessary infrastructure, for developing and testing systems, developing tactics, and employing these air capabilities and forces. Technically trained and experienced Air Force personnel have participated across the life cycle of system development, sustainment, and employment. CONCERNS ABOUT THE FUTURE STEM WORKFORCE The Air Force faces traditional demands that include supplying and sustaining new technologies and operational tactics for air and missile systems. In addition, new and evolving capabilities and operational domains—specifically, network-centric operations, unmanned air systems, and space and cyber operations—are placing extraordinary new technical demands on the Air Force. These will require unique skills and competencies to define, develop, field, and employ operational capabilities effectively. The growing complexity of both traditional and emerging missions is placing new demands on education, training, career development, system acquisition, platform sustainment, and development of operational systems. Simultaneously, force reductions, ongoing military operations, and budget pressures are creating new challenges for attracting and managing the needed technical skills. Although the Air Force has generally been able to meet its accession goals,1 these challenges come at a time of increased competition for technical graduates, an aging industry and government workforce, and consolidations of the industrial base that supports military systems. Throughout the Air Force’s history, its leadership has consistently and persistently enunciated the requirement for scientific, engineering, and technological competence. That requirement has been consistently linked with the importance of maintaining air and space supremacy, and more recently, cyberspace supremacy.2 Concerns about how well the Air Force was doing in meeting its requirements for STEM competence have also been expressed over much of that history. As early as 1949, an Air University study team concluded that, “The United States Air Force is now dangerously deficient in its capacity to insure the long-term development and superiority of American Air Power.” The study team further concluded: Personnel policies are not designed to support the specialized requirements for highly trained scientific and technical personnel for the R&D function. …Our personnel procurement program has not provided us with adequate numbers of scientifically trained personnel; we have not fully utilized those we do have; and our personnel policies have not been conducive to keeping those we have on the job or fully effective on the job (Anderson et al., 1949, p. G-17). Appendix G discusses this 1949 study and the long history of such concerns in the context of the emerging military importance of air (and more recently, space) supremacy from World War I to the present. 1 The term “accession” is used within the Air Force for the process for bringing new officers into the service; “recruitment” is typically used for enlisted airmen. In 2008 the Air Force was not able to meet its accession goals in several technical officer specialties. 2 For a recent restatement of this linkage between STEM competency and maintaining air, space, and cyberspace supremacy, see USAF 2006, pages 12–20.
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14 Examination of the U.S. Air Force’s STEM Workforce Needs Assessments of recent development and acquisition-process failures have identified a loss of technical competence within the Air Force (that is, in-house or organic competence, as opposed to contractor support) as an underlying problem. A 2003 joint study by the Defense Science Board and Air Force Scientific Advisory Board stated that the “government’s capability to lead and to manage the space acquisition process has been seriously eroded, in part due to actions taken in the acquisition reform environment of the 1990s” (DSB-AFSAB, 2003). Acquisition reform initiatives and force-shaping have significantly reduced organic S&E force levels.3 Many civilian S&E positions remain vacant for extended periods due to a slow and cumbersome hiring process. Unintended consequences of these actions are a highly stressed organic S&E workforce and overdependence on contractor technical support. The Office of the Secretary of Defense and the other military Services have in the past regarded the Air Force acquisition system highly, but recent program and source-selection failures are eroding that confidence. Recent after-action reviews and Government Accountability Office (GAO) acquisition assessments have consistently identified loss of organic technical competence as a significant contributor to these failures.4 The GAO (2008) found that program office decisions to use contractor personnel are often driven by such factors as civilian staffing limits and the shorter hiring time lines for contractors, rather than by the skills needed or the nature or criticality of the work. These Air Force S&E management challenges are occurring at the same time that the United States faces the possibility of an impending shortfall of S&E personnel. In recent years, studies from the National Science Foundation and the National Academies of Science and Engineering have expressed concerns regarding the adequacy of the future U.S workforce in S&E (NAS, NAE, IOM, 2007). In January 2009, Norman Augustine, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation and the chair of the 2007 National Academies study, stated that the shortfall in science and engineering graduates was contributing to “America’s declining competitiveness” (Augustine, 2009). Moreover, for the Air Force, there is an additional problem: A growing percentage of science and engineering graduates in the United States are foreign citizens and thus ineligible for the security clearances required for many jobs in the Air Force and in the aerospace industry. Chapter 5 addresses these and other issues related to constraints on the future pool of STEM-degreed graduates available to the Air Force. STATEMENT OF TASK AND COMMITTEE APPROACH In a study request to the Air Force Studies Board of the National Research Council (NRC), the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology, and Engineering noted that the Air Force lacks a strategic vision for employment of its STEM workforce over the next 25 years. After summarizing the reasons for and the importance of such a strategic vision, the Deputy Assistant Secretary asked the NRC to conduct a study focused on the following tasks: Statement of Task 1. Assess the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) capabilities the U.S. Air Force needs to meet the goals, objectives, and priorities in its strategic plan. 2. Determine whether the Air Force’s current STEM workforce and strategy will meet those needs. 3. Identify and evaluate STEM workforce and strategy options to meet capability needs, including both resource-unconstrained and -constrained options. Address STEM 3 In this report, “acquisition reform initiatives” refers to acquisition reforms by the Department of Defense (DoD) in response to the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Initiative Act of 1994, Public Law 103-355. “Force shaping” refers to Air Force activities to meet reduced end-strength requirements and is part of the force management development process. 4 See, for example, DSB-AFSAB, 2003, and GAO, 2008, pp. 28–31.
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Introduction 15 resource employment options, including mixes of Air Force military and civilian STEM workforces, federally funded research and development centers, technical support contractors, system prime contractors, and academia. 4. Address STEM capability needs, workforce, and options in terms of existing Air Force functional management areas. 5. Identify and evaluate options for the organization and management of the Air Force’s STEM workforce to best balance and satisfy the needs of all functional areas and the Air Force as a whole, including any changes to the STEM workforce in the functional areas. 6. Recommend strategies that the Air Force should pursue to meet its STEM capability needs in the future. In response to this request and task statement, the NRC formed the Committee on Examination of the U.S. Air Force’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Needs in the Future and Its Strategy to Meet Those Needs. This committee conducted five fact-finding meetings, which brought forward representatives of the Air Force planning, personnel, education and training, science and engineering, acquisition, testing, and logistics communities. Senior leadership from all the product, test, and logistics centers provided the committee with information on the adequacy of their STEM workforces and indicated concerns about the future of STEM personnel in the Air Force. The committee also heard from representatives of several of the Air Forces’ major commands.5 Additionally, Air Force personnel and manpower databases were made available to the committee. Senior field commanders in the S&E, acquisition, test, operations, and logistics domains provided assessments of the adequacy of the current workforce in terms of quality and quantity. These inputs gave the committee the ability to access the existing STEM-degreed force structure and the current management process for these personnel, identify capability gaps, and evaluate accession options. Assessment of Future Needs Assessments of future needs were drawn from a Science Applications International Corporation study for the Air Force that provides targets for skills and workforce sizes for 2010, 2015, and 2025 (SAIC 2003). The study was provided to the committee by the Science, Technology, and Engineering Directorate of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition (SAF/AQR). The committee further researched the additional STEM needs for the changing space and cyber environments. Assessments of options for meeting these future needs were provided for all the accession methods available to the Air Force, as presented in briefings and data from the U.S. Air Force Academy,6 Holm Officer Accession and Citizen Development Center,7 and the Air Force Institute of Technology.8 The committee limited the study to Air Force line officers and equivalent civilian positions.9 While the Air Force’s enlisted workforce must also be technically competent, the committee did not investigate its future recruiting challenges because of the limited time to conduct information gathering and the limited response received from recruiting personnel. Recruiting personnel did indicate that currently there is no reduction in the quality or quantity of recruits. Enlisted personnel typically receive technical training after entering the Air Force, rather than attending 5 The Air Force major commands and their missions are defined in appendix B. 6 Brig. Gen. Dana Born, Dean of the Faculty, U.S. Air Force Military Academy, briefing to the committee on December 4, 2008. 7 Brig. Gen. Teresa A. Djuric, Commander, Holm Center, Air Education and Training, briefing to the committee on August 27, 2008. 8 Brig Gen Paula Thornhill, Commandant, Air Force Institute of Technology, briefing to the committee on December 3, 2008. 9 Line officers are those eligible to command a combat or combat support unit; the term excludes members of the chaplain, medical, and legal corps.
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16 Examination of the U.S. Air Force’s STEM Workforce Needs college first. Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test scores indicate that the technical aptitude of recruits continues to be adequate for them to enter Air Force technical training programs. Definitions for Key Concepts To address its tasks and report its findings and recommendations with reasonable clarity and rigor, the committee found it necessary to define a number of key terms, including “STEM workforce” for the Air Force context. The committee ascertained that the Air Force uses the term “STEM workforce” internally to refer to all and only those personnel who are assigned to a position that requires a STEM degree, and that usage is maintained in this report. Thus, an Air Force officer or civilian employee who has a STEM degree but is not assigned to a position that requires a STEM degree is not in the STEM workforce. The report uses “Stem-degreed workforce” to refer to all personnel who have a STEM degree at the baccalaureate or post- graduate level, whether or not they are assigned to a position requiring a STEM degree. The committee did not find a satisfactory demarcation either from Air Force sources or in the general literature for what counts as having a STEM degree at either the baccalaureate or postgraduate level. For a baccalaureate degree, this means the “major field of study” for which the degree is awarded. For postgraduate degrees, it is the discipline in which the degree was awarded. Although the Air Force has a database that identifies personnel having a “technical” college degree, technical degrees appear to include degrees in management, business administration, history, and “other” disciplines. The Air Force’s database of technical-degreed personnel was therefore too broad for the purposes of this study; many of the individuals in it are not qualified to fill Air Force positions requiring a STEM degree. To delineate the specific undergraduate majors or postgraduate degree disciplines to be counted as a STEM degree, the committee leveraged the work of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Science Resources Statistics.10 From its WebCASPAR data system, the committee identified the majors/disciplines shown in table 1-1 as being significant to Air Force STEM needs. As exemplified in the initial sections of this chapter and throughout Chapter 2, the committee tackled the fundamental issue of why and where the Air Force needs STEM capabilities in its organic workforce to accomplish its priorities, goals, and objectives as presented in the Air Force Strategic Plan. In this context, is STEM competence essentially the same thing as having a STEM degree—whether demarcated by Table 1-1 or by some roughly similar listing? Among the several arguments why “STEM competent” should not simply be reduced to “STEM-degreed,” the following points most strongly support the committee’s decision to broaden the concept of STEM competence: 10 National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, WebCASPAR Integrated Science and Engineering Resources Data System. Available online at http://webcaspar.nsf.gov/.
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Introduction 17 TABLE 1-1 Significant STEM Disciplines for the Air Force Academic Field Major or Discipline Sciences Astronomy Natural science Chemistry Biological and life sciences Physics Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences Computer science Oceanography Physical sciences Other geosciences Technology Information Electronics Computing Engineering Aerospace, aeronautics, and Electrical engineering astronautics engineering Chemical engineering Computer engineering Industrial engineering Civil engineering General engineering Nuclear Engineering Materials engineering Systems engineering Mechanical engineering Mathematics Mathematics and statistics Operations research and analysis NOTE: Because specializations change rapidly across the STEM disciplines, no list can be truly comprehensive. Overall, these disciplines rely heavily on mathematics, the physical sciences, and the scientific method. The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) annually graduates and commissions approximately a thousand officers. In recent years, both the number and percentage of officers graduating with STEM degrees (as defined by table 1-1) have been declining. Currently only about 41 percent graduate with a STEM degree. However, through its requirement that all cadets take a set of core science, mathematics, engineering, and technology courses, whatever their intended major field of study, the USAFA maintains a commitment to ensuring that all of its graduates have a basic level of STEM competence. It currently requires that all graduates must complete 45 hours of course work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. From time to time, this core set of STEM courses is revisited to ensure that it continues to meet evolving Air Force demands. Thus, the entire pool of USAFA graduates, irrespective of their majors, has a level of STEM competence that should not be ignored in a strategic vision to meet the future STEM needs of the Air Force. If graduates of other accredited institutions have attained a level of STEM competence roughly equivalent to that required by the USAFA, why should they not be considered to be of value in meeting Air Force STEM needs, whether or not they have a STEM degree (as defined by the accepted list of STEM majors)? For many of the STEM-related capabilities described in Chapter 2, an undergraduate STEM degree needs to be supplemented by work experience and professional development. Later chapters include recommendations for ensuring that young STEM- degreed officers and civilians receive the opportunities to acquire this essential experience. Thus, a STEM degree alone is only a condition of entry and needs to be supplemented with experience and training for some of the STEM capabilities the Air Force requires now and in the future. Throughout this report, the committee has defined and used the term “STEM-cognizant” to refer to individuals who have acquired a sufficient foundation in the use of the scientific method in decision-making. The committee believes that the USAFA requirement for 45 hours of STEM coursework is more than adequate, although the minimum requirement, in course hours and subjects studied, is a matter for debate and decision within the Air Force (see Recommendations
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18 Examination of the U.S. Air Force’s STEM Workforce Needs 2-2 and 6-1a for the committee’s recommendations on this critical point). For purposes of this report, and to clearly distinguish “STEM-cognizant” from “STEM-degreed,” while recognizing that the Air Force will need to consider the optimal level of STEM education appropriate for this concept, the committee agreed on 30 hours of STEM coursework as a minimum for STEM cognizance and adopted the following definition: STEM-cognizant: Lacking a specific degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, but having a minimum of 30 hours of undergraduate course work in these subjects or equivalent training or experience, and being conversant in these subjects. For ease of reference, Table 1-2 explicitly summarizes key terminology used throughout this report to discuss STEM capabilities in the Air Force workforce. TABLE 1-2. Definitions of STEM Terms for the Air Force Workforce Term Description STEM-degreed Having an undergraduate or graduate degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics STEM-cognizant Lacking a specific degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, but having a minimum of 30 hours of undergraduate course work in these subjects, training, or experience and being conversant in these subjectsa STEM-assigned Personnel assigned to a position that requires a STEM degree STEM workforce All STEM-assigned personnel in the overall Air Force workforce a The assumption is that such individuals will have a foundation in the use of the scientific method in decision making. ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT Chapter 2 addresses task 1 of the committee’s statement of task by accessing the STEM capabilities the Air Force will need to meet its goals, objectives, and priorities, as presented in the Air Force Strategic Plan 2006–2008, across its missions and domains. Chapter 3 responds to tasks 2 and 3 by characterizing the current STEM workforce—that is, the military and civilian personnel assigned to positions that require a STEM degree. Chapter 4 addresses tasks 3 and 4 by accessing needs for STEM capabilities in the acquisition workforce, including but not limited to positions that require a STEM degree. Chapter 5 describes the future competitive environment for recruiting and retaining STEM-degreed personnel and emphasizes the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce. These concerns are relevant to Tasks 3, 5, and 6. Chapter 6 responds to tasks 3 through 6 by evaluating options and making recommendations for strategies the Air Force should pursue to meet its needs for STEM-capable personnel in the future, across all missions and roles. The recommendations in Chapter 6 are intended to outline an integrated management approach to addressing the issues developed in all the preceding chapters. In Chapter 7, the committee explains why action is needed now to address these issues. REFERENCES Anderson, O.A., D.L. Putt, R.P. Swofford, Jr., and K.K. Compton. 1949. Research and Development in the United States Air Force. Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, November 18.
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Introduction 19 Augustine, N.R. 2009. America’s Competitiveness. Statement Before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, January 7, 2009. Available at www.aau.edu/WorkArea/showcontent.aspx?id=8154 DSB-AFSAB (Defense Science Board; Air Force Science Advisory Board). 2003. Acquisition of National Security Space Programs. May 2003. Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. GAO (Government Accountability Office). 2008. Defense Acquisitions Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs. GAO-08-467S. March 2008. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office. NAS, NAE, IOM. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, The National Academies. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Available online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463. SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). 2003. Future Acquisition and S&E Workforce Requirements: 2010, 2015, and 2025. January 17, 2003. McLean, Virginia. USAF (United States Air Force). 2006. Air Force Strategic Plan 2006–2008. Available online at www.airforcestrategynet.mil.