demand deep technical competence to master, in terms of sustainment as well as in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). New aircraft, such as a new tanker, and technology upgrades and modifications, as are necessary for all extended-life aircraft such as the venerable B-52 and C-5, will likewise demand technical competence for employment and sustainment. STEM-degreed or STEM-cognizant personnel are critical for this technical competence.
One current concern is Air Force management of its nuclear forces, both air-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles, which came under criticism in 2008 because of missteps in nuclear operational and logistics areas. The Air Force is reviewing force-wide processes, procedures, systems, personnel training, and management and is taking significant action by refocusing the mission into a new command structure. The Air Force is also playing an important role in an ongoing national review of the role of new nuclear weapons and supporting infrastructures. In keeping with these developments, and in recognition of existing Air Force missions, there is no question that maintaining credible deterrence in an evolving environment requires robust STEM capabilities in the workforce.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Air Force has evolved to be an expeditionary air warfare force capable of (1) projecting precise lethal force anywhere on the globe, (2) rapid mobility, and (3) continuous global monitoring and movement of information to enable joint operations. New operating concepts and missions have been achieved through innovative use of existing systems and technologies and through the introduction of new capabilities. The development of responsive and dynamic operational-level command and control capabilities has dramatically improved the planning and execution of theater air operations and the integration of joint operations. ”Reachback”2 via satellite and other information links from lean in-theater forces to robust in-place resources in the continental United States has changed the nature of deployed operations. Today, airborne reconnaissance and strike missions are executed from thousands of miles away, telemedicine enables rapid stabilization and transport of casualties from the battlefield, and agile logistics and maintenance support allow forces to operate at a high tempo with a minimum “footprint” in theater. Optimal operation and sustainment of these still-emerging yet increasingly mission-critical capabilities require substantial STEM capabilities among the personnel involved.
Such dramatic new capabilities as unmanned air systems, day-night/all-weather operations, and the ubiquitous use of the Global Positioning System for precision operations across the battlefield have transformed Air Force forces and operations. These new systems and the missions they enable have demanded rapid advancement and new technical understanding in such areas as data links, anti-jam techniques, multispectral sensors, and low-light operations. Beyond developing these new technical operational capabilities, their real power is in using them effectively on the battlefield, which increasingly depends on STEM-degreed or STEM-cognizant warriors.
In some ways, space operations may seem to be a simple extension of air flight. But space is a hostile environment in which physical conditions differ markedly from those within the atmosphere. These differences, in turn, have marked effects on the design and operation of systems that must operate in this domain. The Air Force has excelled in developing and operating military space capabilities from the earliest days of the space age, shepherding their rapid