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.


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.


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.


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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