Published Airpower Journal -
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
WHERE DOES THE AIR FORCE
NEED OFFICERS? OR
Maj J. C. Cantrell III, USAF
Maj Henry L. Andrews, Jr., USAF
To command, make war-fighting policy, and be accountable for accomplishing the Air Force mission.
--ACSC Officer Requirements Study
HISTORICALLY, military force reductions have ravaged the combat capability of the armed services (recall the "hollow force" of the post-Vietnam era). These reductions affect the basic building blocks of combat capability: weapon systems, technology, logistics, and, most importantly, people. People, as the most perishable component of our war-fighting capability, require fundamentally sound nurturing for them to fulfill the defense needs of our country. Ill-advised execution of manpower cutbacks will profoundly retard our ability to succeed on the battlefield. The objective Air Force, the "one-base, one-wing, one-boss" concept, and composite wings are Air Force efforts to manage the end strength drawdown through organizational restructuring. Meanwhile, the "base force" has fallen victim to fiscal restrictions, and budget reductions are pushing Air Force end strength to drastically lower levels. This turmoil directly affects our war-fighting capability.
As a result, in October 1992, Gen Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force chief of staff, asked Maj Gen Glenn A. Profitt, then the Air Force director of manpower and organization, to examine some basic officership issues, key among them being what does the Air Force really need its officers to do. This article describes the results of an Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) study (see sidebar) that took a "clean-sheet" approach with no preconceived product and focused on the things that must be done by officers and developed a method for placing officers where they can do them.
From the study came a mission statement for the Air Force officer corps: "To command, make war-fighting policy, and be accountable for accomplishing the Air Force mission."1 The study also developed a model that turns the three discrete criteria of the mission statement into a method the Air force can use to distinguish officer billets.2
This study was not merely a paperwork exercise. It answered an Air Staff tasking generated by the political realities of today's budget-cutting environment. Congress is concerned about the Air Force costing more than other services in terms of personnel expenses (e.g., Sen John H. Glenn, Jr. [D-Ohio], often says the Air Force's officer-enlisted ratio is far too high when compared to the other services, especially the Marine Corps). Some believe that the Air Force, when compared with the other services, is underutilizing its officers in supervisory roles. Even if this belief is unfounded, we must move the system to respond in dramatic, proactive ways or have the "answers" dictated to us by legislation. The academic freedom of ACSC provided a unique environment in which to design an unbiased, pragmatic solution to a real-world problem Air Force senior leaders address every day.
If we accept the requirements inherent in the above mission statement for the Air Force officer corps, we logically conclude that only officers should fill billets that satisfy the mission statement. But, the question remains, Who will accomplish the many essential tasks not encompassed in the mission statement but currently done by officers? The possible responses are noncommissioned officers (NCO), reservists, civil servants, and contractors.
Recasting the NCO's role is essential. There is a need to assign more responsibilities to those in the grades of E-5 through E-7 and to provide the opportunity for senior and chief master sergeants to do more middle management tasks. Today, many of our company grade officer billets are filled by "process experts." During the continuing drawdown in force structure, these billets will transition to other manpower categories (in most cases, enlisted members). The NCO corps is ready, willing, and able to tackle these duties.3 Yet, there may be critical training questions to answer down the road as we incur a responsibility to better prepare these NCOs for the staff duties that were once the specific domain of the company grade officer.
Enlisted members daily shoulder an increasingly higher share of the responsibility for mission success. In the early 1970s, the Air Force required an officer to recode the targets in a Minuteman II missile; NCOs now do it. Today's enlisted members come in the service better educated than ever before. We take these bright enlistees and train them to a very high standard. Over time, incremental changes in who we are as a service and what we ask our people to do have blurred some of the traditional distinctions between many officer billets and enlisted billets. This blurring does not imply there is no difference between an E-8 and an O-3, but it is a fairly safe assertion that there may not always be dramatic differences between many of their duties and responsibilities.
Although there are many qualities we desire in all our personnel, there appears to be four dominating traditional factors that drive officer requirements. First and foremost is the need to provide officers who command units and exercise Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) authority over their subordinates. Putting just anybody in a command billet doesn't satisfy this requirement. People must be prepared for command responsibilities. Every experience and opportunity the Air Force gives to an officer on the way to being a commander shapes the officer's ability to do the job well. Beyond the issue of whether combat leaders are made or born, the essential point is that our future leaders' ability to lead is shaped by the experiences we provide them. Thus, the Air Force must ensure that every billet an officer is assigned to on the way to command will properly prepare the officer to be a war-winning leader.
Protocol is another driver. One of the best examples of the protocol requirement is in the joint and international arenas when our sister services or other countries' military services supply an officer of a particular grade and we feel obligated to do the same. We do this to ensure our service interests are clearly heard in these important forums. If we don't meet such protocol requirements, portions of our war-fighting capability could be inadvisably sacrificed at some headquarters conference table.
The third driver, compensation, is important because, in the broadest sense, sometimes the easiest way to attract and retain people of a particular skill (e.g., engineering) has been to pay a competitive salary. Despite the availability of various types of financial incentives, the way we frequently attract needed skills is to offer commissions.
The final traditional driver is risk/accountability. "Risk," in this sense, is not only laying one's life on the line--after all, enlisted pararescue specialists and many others take such risks every day. As warriors, all military members readily accept this type of risk. Quintessentially, however, "risk" represents entrepreneurial risk, taking the chances that go along with making the tough decisions that allow any portion of the Air Force to operate effectively. The "accountability" side of this driver, on the other hand, indicates the officer's ultimate culpability for all activities going on under his or her purview, whether or not he or she was personally aware of the specific issue in question. For instance, regardless of which aircraft maintenance production superintendent was on duty and signed off an airplane later involved in a mishap, the squadron maintenance officer will also be held accountable for any mistakes. The bottom line here is that if it goes wrong, the officer responsible will be called to task for the results.
A second question must also be addressed: What do we want officers to be doing in the Air Force today? The response requires a philosophical construct upon which to base programmatic decisions. A central concept is the notion that we are not operators, maintainers, or medics. Rather, we are officers in service to our nation. We must consider the duty engendered by our oath and commission before we consider our allegiance to a specific Air Force career field.
The mission statement "To command, make war-fighting policy, and be accountable for accomplishing the Air Force mission" represents the challenges posed to and accepted by Air Force officers upon commissioning. The statement includes the three things that, in their ultimate definitions, can be done only by Air Force officers. If these duties are not properly discharged, we can no longer guarantee to the American public war-fighting successes like Operation Desert Storm. Rather, it's not unlikely we could repeat the postwar drawdown fiascoes with results similar to those we experienced during the summer of 1950 in South Korea.4
From the mission statement, we can develop a way to categorize Air Force officer billets. In an ideally structured Air Force, officer slots should fall into one of three categories: commanders, war-fighting policymakers, and the remainder of the accountable decision makers.
Commander billets are reserved for the commanders who exercise UCMJ authority and have an "A" prefix on their Air Force specialty code.* This construct excludes many positions we now call "commanders," like aircraft commanders or flight commanders within a flying squadron. War-fighting policymakers include those billets filled by noncommander, executive-level leaders who are making war-fighting policy at their level of the Air Force where the function must be exclusively the province of the military professional. In this construct, we look to the differences between the Air Staff and the Air Force secretariat. In the secretariat, we have placed a senior officer "blue suit" presence in major functions, but those functions are actually run by civilian appointees. However, when it comes to war-fighting areas like the plans and operations community, there are no civilian counterparts, thus revealing the distinction between a policymaker and a "war-fighting policymaker." Finally, we must clearly define the accountable decision maker billets. Officers in these slots exercise essential military leadership, oversight, decision making, and accountability in their daily duties, all factors whose
*This was scheduled to be changed to a "C" prefix on 1 October 1993 as a result of AFSC restructuring.
consequences increase the higher a billet is placed in the organization. Further, these billets prepare officers for more responsibility and authority. These slots sustain the "pipeline" that ensures the Air Force has an adequate supply of officers who will eventually fill positions in the commander and war-fighting policymaker categories.
Figure 1 depicts a logic tree for ensuring that officer authorizations are of the type we ultimately want to retain in a smaller Air Force. As shown in the diagram, any officer authorization fitting one of these three definitions (e.g., commander, war-fighting policymaker, or a remaining accountable decision maker) is retained. Those slots meeting none of these tests are candidates for deletion or conversion to another manpower category. Alternative manpower categories include enlisted, reservist, civil servant, or contractor. This very simple logic tree represents an endgame for officer authorizations; however, it is not sufficiently developed to account for the complexities of progressing to that endgame. We need a more sophisticated vehicle for AFSC functional managers to use in reaching that vision.
We can incorporate the logic tree as the three entering questions of the implementation model in figure 2. The intent is for an AFSC functional manager to use the implementation model and the 38-series Air Force directives governing organizational structure to assess the need to retain the officer billets they control. As in our earlier discussion of the logic tree, many billets will fall into the three entering categories (commander, war-fighting policymaker, or remaining accountable decision maker) already discussed. On the other hand, other billets will immediately become candidates for conversion or deletion.
Tagging billets as commanders, war-fighting policymakers, or remaining accountable decision makers is only the initial step of the review represented by the implementation model. When this first step is complete, AFSC functional managers must then use the model to generate more information by which the Air Force can make further judgments about the billets that remain in a smaller officer corps. While the initial categorization of officer slots as commander, war-fighting policymaker, or remaining accountable decision maker will cause many authorizations to be deleted or converted to another manpower category, further scrutiny holds the possibility of finding even greater economies. These economies are located in billets that today pass the model's tests, but do so only on the margin. In the course of this examination, we will not quarrel with the need to do a function, but we must ask who should be doing a particular task. We do this in a series of questions that first review the propriety of command billets. Then we identify slots that are assistants to other officers and exercise meaningful oversight of subordinates. Finally, we determine if another manpower category (enlisted, reservist, civil servant, or contractor) could do the same job. These questions are then summed up in an overall validation process for each officer authorization.
For instance, when looking at the "Command `A' Prefix" block in figure 2 and considering command billets in a downsizing environment, can we afford to have officer squadron section commanders (billets which today have an "A" prefix and could otherwise pass the logic tree's simplified test)? By tasking functional managers to validate their command requirements, we gather data that helps make this determination. Logically, most "A" prefix billets will validate during this test; those that don't are subject to further review.
For the noncommander billets ("War-Fighting Policymaker" and "Remaining Accountable Decision Makers" blocks [fig. 2]), we gather additional data on the authorizations in these categories. The first question ("Assistant?" block) determines whether the authorization under review is an "assistant" billet. An "assistant" is one officer serving under another officer at the same level of the organization and overseeing the same portions of the organization. Group deputy commander authorizations, for instance, are one example of officer slots a smaller Air Force may elect to forgo.5
A further test ("Subordinates?" block) of the officer requirement for a particular billet is whether the position has any meaningful subordinates. Referring back to the definition of an accountable decision maker, officers exercise "essential military leadership, oversight, decisionmaking, and accountability" (e.g., having no subordinates or supervising only the squadron information management specialist may not qualify). Note, however, that the route out of the "Subordinates?" block in figure 2 is the same, regardless of the answer to this question. Asking the question not only ensures the gathering of the data on this characteristic of the officer billets under review but also allows the functional manager to recognize that officer positions without meaningful subordinates are sometimes necessary, even though billets not satisfying this test may be impractical in the even leaner times ahead.
To this point, the functional manager for a given AFSC has generated data in three areas: finding "A" prefix officer slots where the command requirement is not valid, determining if the officer slot is an "assistant," and reviewing the quality and quantity of oversight of subordinates attributed to the officer billet. In figure 2, the information gleaned from each of these three reviews is brought together for the functional manager to answer the fourth and most basic question (the "Convert Billet?" block): "Can another manpower category perform this function?" In other words, can the Air Force convert this billet to an enlisted person, reservist, civil servant, or contractor? One basis for answering this question comes from examining whether more than one category of manpower does the same job today, as can be found in some disciplines. As with the "Subordinates?" block in figure 2, the route out of the "Convert Billet?" block is the same, regardless of the answer to the question. This ensures that the AFSC functional manager addresses this subject, thereby gathering data about an officer slot that may never before have been captured.
After the "Convert Billet?" block in figure 2 generates the fourth and final data point asked for in the portion of the model that addresses those officer slots presently on the margin, all this information is then considered by the functional manager in making the retention decision. The "Validate Officer Requirement" block in figure 2 brings the invalid command slots, assistant, subordinates, and billet conversion data together into one final discussion on the wisdom of retaining any particular officer slot. Included in these functional manager deliberations must be an overarching priority to retain enough officer authorizations to ensure the sustainment of the pipeline as discussed earlier. Out of this process will come a final recommendation to retain, convert, or delete the officer billets.
To ensure consistent treatment of every AFSC, senior Air Force leaders must provide a clear charter for the AFSC functional managers to follow. It must include specific AFSCs to focus on or to avoid as well as to give guidance on how vigorously to apply the model. The following factors helped define the bounds of the overall review.
In discussing the need for an officer to do a particular job, proponents of the pro-officer side of the question frequently lean on tradition or the oft-quoted "You have to have an officer to do that job" when defending certain billets. In a drastically downsizing Air Force, the obvious question is why. Therefore, we must identify where personnel and compensation policy are inadequate to support institutionalizing the changes which could come from using the implementation model. In addition, we must find those public laws that restrict Air force options in making the choices necessary to use the implementation model effectively. The bottom line here is to not let present policies or laws interfere with making the correct recommendation on the retention, conversion, or deletion of an officer slot. If regulations or laws need to be changed, the Air Force can tackle that later by using the information gained in implementing this system.
It is clear that as the Air Force deletes officer authorizations or converts them to enlisted billets, senior and mid-level NCOs will be assigned broader duties. We have discussed how officers and NCOs alike feel today's NCOs are ready to assume this new mantle of responsibility. To ensure a smooth transition to this new division of labor, we must determine what additional training opportunities are needed to allow NCOs to effectively step into traditionally officer-held authorizations.
When it comes to defining "Remaining Accountable Decision Makers," there could be differences in this category between each officer career field. As the experts, AFSC functional managers will play a critical role in assessing the characteristics of essential military leadership, oversight, decision making, and accountability in their career fields. They must also meet the need to sustain the pipeline to the "Command" and "War-Fighting Policymaker" billets in their specialty. Further, they must determine how these traits fit into their specific AFSC's duties and responsibilities.
During the last three years, the Air Force has witnessed a dramatic restructuring under the objective Air Force banner. The implementation model described here applies directly to today's objective Air Force. However, AFSC functional managers must recognize that other organizational changes are possible outgrowths of using this model. Functional managers must identify where these changes are needed in the organization. This is especially so if further consolidations of AFSCs become necessary to "keep the doors open" as an individual AFSC when wide-scale slot conversions or deletions leave too few authorizations in an AFSC.
Because no review of Air Force personnel of this magnitude happens in a vacuum, today's senior leaders must provide guidance to the AFSC functional managers. Specifically, it would be useful to identify the "low-hanging fruit" in the officer trees where such measures as an inflated officer-enlisted ratio or unusually narrow spans of control are clues to possibly dysfunctional officer billets. Additionally, we should not ignore opportunities in the Department of Defense (DOD) agencies and joint arenas. In these organizations, not only does the Air Force provide an inordinately high percentage of the officers assigned (when compared to the other services), but the definitions of officers providing essential military leadership, oversight, decision making, and responsibility clearly are being overlooked.
Again relying on AFSC functional manager expertise, the Air Force must define how it can restructure some offices into a team concept. The "team" approach can be visualized when you examine a notional Air Staff office with a dozen lieutenant colonels, majors, and captains in it--all, or most, in "one-deep" jobs. When these billets are run through the model one at a time, it is conceivable that all could fail the tests of being an assistant, having no meaningful subordinates, or having a job that another manpower category could do. However, if we restructure this notional office into a three-team organization, each team with an officer leader and the enlisted or civilian process experts necessary for that particular function, three officer billets would pass the model tests because they now exercise "essential military leadership" and possess the other characteristics of accountable decision makers.6 AFSC functional managers must craft a basic (or minimum) "team" composition, below which we should not go because the officers leading the team would not meet the characteristics inherent in the "Remaining Accountable Decision Maker" definition. Conversions of this magnitude may require other changes. For instance, although the objective wing structure may have removed some excess officer billets from the traditional wing/base structure, more can be done at this level. (An example will be discussed later.) However, as this model winnows down the "process expert" officers who have traditionally moved to headquarters staffs as midgrade or senior captains, the candidates for headquarters jobs will be the E-6 to E-9 NCO process experts. We must prepare to incorporate this new NCO expertise into the various staffs. The "team" concept described above is one way to approach this issue.
A big question concerns whether officer slots in the scientific/engineering/acquisition AFSCs should be converted to civilian or enlisted positions. The primary problem on the civilian side of that equation is the internally imposed cap in civilian end strength (which the Air Force already exceeds by about 7,000 people); converting officer billets in these areas would make that situation worse. On the other hand, while conversions to enlisted slots would not exacerbate the civilian end strength issue, the Air Force would find itself wondering whether a sufficient number of retainable or recruitable enlisted personnel have the education and training to perform some of the highly technical tasks associated with these AFSCs. Therefore, we must determine if the internally imposed civilian end strength cap will soon be overcome by events (e.g., civilianization of the acquisition corps), allowing us to be more flexible in using the civilian manpower category than we presently anticipate.
Special duty assignment (SDA) officer requirements should also be addressed. You may ask how the levy of SDAs affects the various AFSCs. The issue here is one of who has the stick. It is safe to say that a given AFSC functional manager knows exactly what is being done by an officer working within his or her primary AFSC (PAFSC). Unfortunately, it may be difficult for the AFSC functional manager to accurately ascertain how an officer from any AFSC is being utilized when, for example, he or she is filling an assignment in a recruiting squadron, an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) detachment, or a teaching position at Air University. This means that experts from the special duty assignment areas must also be charged with using this model to determine if the officer authorizations in their particular areas meet the tests in the implementation model. The Air Force must identify methods by which SDA managers, who presently levy requirements on AFSC functional managers, are told to address implementation of the model and officer utilization within their specific areas. If reductions in some SDAs are made, there is the possibility of complementary reductions in primary functional areas, since fewer officers will be working outside of their PAFSC in SDAs.
Finally, no matter how you slice it, mission essentiality is a critical concern. Using the expertise of each AFSC functional manager, the Air Force must decide what the war-fighting measures of merit should be in each specific career field. In other words, what must the war-fighting commander bring to the fight from each officer specialty to get the job done both effectively and efficiently? This acid test of the officer slots retained after the implementation model is used will help determine if the model's results meet the test of mission essentiality. War-winning remains the ultimate objective. The most important measure of merit is whether, when the work is done, the war-fighting commander has the necessary expertise in sufficient numbers to meet essential mission requirements. There should be no detriment to getting the wartime mission done due to fewer officers in the force structure. In fact, the results should actually be better because the officers we throw into the fray would be better prepared to execute their duties. They'll have occupied a succession of billets specifically designed to prepare them for that crucial point in their military lives--combat.
The application of these concepts may have already affected your AFSC. For example, during one of the "tests" on an AFSC with a particularly heavy officer presence, six units were evaluated. All units considered had varying missions throughout the spectrum of possible duties in this career field.7 Of nearly 90 officer authorizations represented in the test, 26 slots were retained as officer billets, 18 slots were converted to enlisted billets, and the remaining 46 or so positions were converted to civil service.8
This "test" proved an interesting exercise, but reality was even more startling. Recently, an Air Force major command scrubbed its own billets in the same AFSC. This command examined 54 officer authorizations in this AFSC using a practical application of the criteria defined in the implementation model. The results: the command determined that 27 of these billets required officers, 26 others were recommended for conversion to a different manpower category (as yet undetermined), and one was deleted.
In this actual application, squadron commander billets were retained as officer authorizations, although squadron section commander slots are being reviewed for conversion. Among other billets retained as officer authorizations were "deployable" officer slots used in wartime duties and various flight commander billets. These accountable decision-maker positions sustain the pipeline to the "A" prefix commander authorizations and war-fighting policymaker billets. Among those jobs chosen for conversion were authorizations vacant for at least six months, "peacetime only" slots, slots in this AFSC which in reality function as executive officers, and some detachment-level billets.
As AFSC functional managers on the Air Staff strive to implement these tools, it's important to look ahead to what the Air Force officer corps can become under this system. We see a stronger, more focused officer component with higher effectiveness and efficiency. Officers in the future will have more expertise functioning at the "system level" rather than being "process experts"--a role more clearly compatible with the oversight and leadership aspects of their mission. As we continue to downsize and restructure, we must make every effort to ensure that our officer authorizations are carefully placed throughout our organization to remain the most effective combat force the world has ever known.9
1. Air Command and Staff College Officer Requirements Study, staff study, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, 10 May 1993, 7.
2. Ibid., 9.
3. Both the ACSC study team and SNCOA seminar group independently reached this conclusion.
4. Clay Blair, in his book The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953 (New York: Times Books, 1987), says that the post-World War II condition of the American Army made it unprepared for the North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950. He states that "for various reasons, it [the United States Army] was not prepared mentally, physically, or otherwise for war. On the whole, its leadership at the army, corps, division, regiment, and battalion levels was overaged, inexperienced, often incompetent, and not physically capable of coping with the rigorous climate of Korea" (page xi).
5. Of note was the study team's conclusion that the Air Force has a cultural tendency to rely on "assistants" more than our sister services.
6. One caveat in "team" formation is that all office teams must be able to properly discharge their "protocol" duties as defined in this study.
7. During the coordination phase of the study, Lt Gen Billy J. Boles, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, asked the team to provide examples to demonstrate how the model might be applied. Each Air Force member of the study group tested the model against the unit or staff organization to which he or she was assigned before coming to ACSC. To date, the official "reception" of this study's products has been overwhelmingly positive.
9. This study has the potential to improve the war-fighting capability of every Air Force officer on active duty today and for the foreseeable future. The study results would not have been possible without the substantial contributions of 79 Air Command and Staff College students of the Class of 1993, faculty, and staff members. Moreover, all who participated are grateful for the thoughtful assistance and valuable insights provided by the Senior NCO Academy, Air War College, Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development, and the Air Staff's manpower, personnel, and programming communities. In the end, though, everyone who played a part in this project owes a great debt of gratitude to our facilitator, Lt Col "Rik" Gervais, who epitomizes "essential military leadership."
Maj J.C. Cantrell III (BS, MS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute) is chief, Contingency Plans Branch, Allied Forces Northern Europe, Kolsas, Norway. A senior pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, he has also served as an associate professor, Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, United States Military Academy. Other assignments include C-141B pilot, aircraft commander, and instructor pilot and F-111F weapons systems officer. Major Cantrell is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College.
Maj Henry L. Andrews, Jr. (BS, Syracuse University; MBA, Louisiana Tech University) is a national defense fellow at the Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has had assignments as aircraft maintenance officer at Osan AB, Republic of Korea; aide-de-camp to the Eighth Air Force commander at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana; protocol support officer at Offutt AFB, Nebraska; and executive officer and missile combat crew member and instructor at McConnell AFB, Kansas. Major Andrews is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and a distinguished graduate of Air Command and Staff College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
[ Back Issues | Home Page | Feedback? Email the Editor ]