Lt Gen Deptula Remarks – OTH Speaker Series – Aerospace Power in an Age of Uncertainty

Estimated time to read: 27 minutes

Editor’s Note:  On 30 January 2018, retired Lt Gen David Deptula served as the inaugural OTH Speaker Series guest when he spoke at Air University’s Air War College and Air Command and Staff College. Lt Gen Deptula’s OTH speaking engagement comes on the heels of his October 2017 OTH interview, which can be read in its entirety here (1, 2, 3). I hope you enjoy reading Lt Gen Deptula’s comments on the future of airpower.

By retired Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it’s really great to be here to address the future military leadership of the free world. Especially all of you who have the knowledge, insight, and appreciation for the value of airpower as a critical element of national security.  I very much appreciate the invitation to share my thoughts with you about the future of warfare—in particular, aerospace power in an age of uncertainty.

Given all the trauma in the world today—not to mention the tumultuous political divide inside the U.S.—I thought I’d offer you a summary of my perspectives on the emerging security environment; how aerospace power fits in that environment; and how we might reconcile our National Security aspirations in light of the fiscal challenges we’re facing.

I’ll tell you right up front that while I’ve spent my entire adult life as an Airman, I believe that if the United States is going to retain its role as a force for good across the planet, we need to have the strongest Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force in the world.

The spectrum of capabilities provided by the individual service components are selected by our combatant commanders to meet the needs of a particular contingency—and each will be different calling upon different service capabilities in differing quantities depending on the circumstances.  This is the value of jointness—using the right force in the right place at the right time.  It’s not about using every force every place all the time.

We face a complex series of security challenges today that will shape the circumstances of how and what forces will be used.

First, our defense strategy must contend with a rising economic and military powerhouse in China; a resurgent Russia; declining states—some with nuclear weapons; the increasing likelihood of nuclear weapons proliferation; evil actors of the most despicable nature exemplified by the Islamic State; and a dynamic web of terrorism.

Second, the pace and tenor of our lives have been irrevocably altered by the acceleration of change.  Global trade, travel, and telecommunications have produced major shifts in the way we live.

Speed and complexity have merged, and now permeate the conduct of warfare.  Consequently, one implication for our future military is that it must be able to respond rapidly anywhere on the globe.

Third, we have to contend with increasing costs and decreasing budgets for defense.  Therefore, the provision of flexibility of response across a wide spectrum of circumstances should be foremost among the decision criteria we apply to our future military.

Fourth, in the information age, we have to acknowledge that deploying large numbers of US troops onto foreign soil to nation-build vice accomplish a mission and leave, are simply counter-productive to securing critical US goals and objectives.

Fifth, we must actively pursue and invest in options we can use to counter the increasingly advanced anti-access strategies our adversaries are likely to employ.

Sixth, we need to challenge our adversaries’ domination of public perception.  We have to learn how to use accurate information as a core element of our security apparatus.  We are woefully inept at strategic communications and that needs to change.

Finally, information’s value also extends past the news cycle.  Just as wireless connectivity, personal computing devices, and cloud-based applications are revolutionizing life in the civilian sector; these trends will also radically alter the way our military forces operate.

Faster and more capable networks and computing capabilities are turning information into the dominant factor in modern warfare.  As one commander recently remarked, “We need to understand that aircraft like the F-22 are information machines far beyond being killing assets.”  More on that shortly…

Given this reality, it’s time we acknowledge that information and its management is just as important today as are the traditional tools of military power.  Information and data are the forces evolving these tools—airplanes, satellites, infantry, amphibious elements and warships—from isolated systems into an integrated enterprise where the exchange of data—and its accurate interpretation—will determine success or failure.

These trends provide insight for considering the future in which we’ll have to contend.  How many of you saw the news this past Sunday where the fitness tracking APP, “Strava,” is yielding sensitive information about military bases and outposts—both friendly and of potential adversaries?

So how does aerospace power fit into this environment?

The strategic narrative of the Air Force—our Nation’s primary and premier aerospace force—is to provide our Nation global initiative.   The Air Force has codified its strategic objectives as providing Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power.

The global initiative enabled by these tenets emphasizes not only the agility of aerospace capabilities, but also the flexibility that they provide to civilian leadership.  Essentially, the Air Force is a capabilities-based force.  This makes it the Nation’s strategic hedge regarding future challenges.  This is a highly desirable characteristic considering that we are horrible predictors of the future.

Aerospace options shape, deter, and dissuade so we can attain fundamental interests minimizing the need for combat operations…  When combat is necessary, aerospace capabilities yield a variety of strategic, operational, and tactical effects that provide disproportionate advantages.

However, our aerospace capabilities have reached an inflection point.  This year we just celebrated the 27th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm—the first Gulf War.  Your Air Force has been at war not just since 9/11, but since 1991…  After 27 years of continuous combat operations coupled with budget instability and lower-than-planned top lines have made the U.S. Air Force the smallest, the oldest, and the least ready force in its history.

Yet, our nation faces an ever growing and evolving list of challenges.  While each of them drive an increase in the demand for aerospace power, the Air Force has to deal with unpredictable and eroding budgets that have shrunk force structure, as well as the defense industrial base upon which it heavily relies.

Today we have 59 percent fewer fighter squadrons than during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 (134 in 1991, 55 today). We have 30 percent fewer people, and 37 percent fewer total aircraft.

At the height of the hollow military of the 1970’s, and when President Reagan took office pledging to rebuild it, our Air Force aircraft averaged 12 years old.  Today the average age of Air Force aircraft is over 200 percent older…28 years.

The Air Force is operating a geriatric force that is becoming more so every day.  Bombers and tankers over 50 years of age, trainers over 40, fighters and helicopters over 30—for comparison purposes the average age of the U.S. airline fleet is about 10 years…and they don’t pull 6 to 9 “Gs” on a daily basis as do our fighters.

In the 70’s, nearly half our military planes could not fly because there were no spare parts and proper maintenance.  It’s gotten just as bad today.  Last year, the Air Force Chief of Staff stated that readiness to fight in a high-end conflict had fallen to less than 50 percent because of lack of proper maintenance and spare parts.

Between 2009 and 2018, the US military will sustain budget cuts totaling over $1.5 trillion dollars.  Many of these cuts have been arbitrary and not reflected in strategy or analysis.  Yet, the demand for airpower keeps growing while the Air Force is seriously underfunded.

Here’s what the recently released AF Air Superiority Flight Plan says about the path we’re on, “The Air Force’s projected force structure in 2030 is not capable of fighting and winning against the array of potential adversary capabilities.”  Folks, these aren’t politicians saying that, but rather an official statement from the United States Air Force.

In addition to the physical wear and tear on our aerospace forces from over 27 years of continuous combat; the procurement holiday of the 1990s where few new combat aircraft were produced; and the aging issues—is economic pressure that will critically affect the Air Force’s ability to sustain its contributions.

As one defense analyst (Loren Thompson) puts it, “…after 20 years of neglect by both political parties, a period of consequences has arrived for American air power.  We either spend more on recapitalization of the Air Force, or in the very near future we lose our most important war-fighting advantage.”

Highlighting the extent to which this impacts our entire joint force, he goes on to add that “The Air Force that prevented any American soldier from being killed by enemy aircraft for over 60 years may not be up to the task in the years ahead due to lack of adequate investment.”

The new defense strategy is based on the trends identified earlier, and points to the requirement for an Air Force capable of ensuring America’s freedom to maneuver, operate, and command and control expeditionary forces in the face of emerging, highly sophisticated threats.

So how do we reconcile the budget restrictions being imposed on aerospace and defense with our National Security aspirations?  There are several areas that need attention, and I have ten for your consideration—some that challenge the perpetuation of the status quo.

First, Congress:  The respective Armed Service Committees could lead the way on defense reform if they mirrored 21st century capabilities versus a historic model reflecting last century military organization.  Sea power is currently afforded its own subcommittee; but land and air power are lumped together and named after an extinct version of Army doctrine; and no subcommittees are dedicated to either cyber or space.

One action Congress could take to focus on defense in the 21st Century is to split the airland subcommittee into a subcommittee on aerospace power, one on land power, and add a subcommittee on cyber operations.

Second, Cyber:  As a “man-made” domain, cyber is fundamentally different from the natural domains of air, land, sea and space.  The traditional domains remain important, but our security predicament cannot be understood without an appreciation of the cyber domain.

Nor can instruments from the cyber domain achieve their full potential if they are simply filtered through the institutional command channels of the traditional domains.  Yes, cyber instruments can be useful in making traditional systems more effective, and should be tapped for this purpose.  However, as is being demonstrated by our opponents, they can serve foreign policy goals independent from air, land, sea, and space systems.

Against this background, all the services must consider how to engage more effectively in public-private ventures with leading technology entities.  Indeed, it’s apparent that the private sector has moved far ahead of the DOD in advancing cyber technology in response to consumer demand.  DOD is no longer the dominating production and marketing force.

Unfortunately, the DOD has historically been risk-averse when it comes to procuring technology.  Both the legal framework undergirding the defense acquisition system and its organizational culture are biased heavily towards risk avoidance.

This encourages decision-makers at every level to choose the safer option, often choosing known incumbents over disruptive startups or keeping costly, failing programs of record alive for far too long.  Fortunately, there have been some efforts recently to shakeup the ossified acquisition process with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental or (DIUx) initiative, and others that will send a message that failure is acceptable, as long as the Department learns and adjusts quickly.

Needless to say, our potential “wingmen” in the cyber domain represent a very different culture from the profession of arms.  The military must learn to accommodate this new culture on a partnership basis or, alternatively, accept a new non-military enterprise to create and command a force structure for deterring and operating autonomous instruments emerging from the cyber domain.

Either alternative requires that the military supplement its traditional focus on combined arms warfare with increased emphases on the more holistic question of desired effects, and thereby open the door to an increased appreciation for action in the cyber domain.

Today’s situation in operating in cyberspace is one that begs for more unification.  Accordingly, it is welcome news that U.S. Cyber Command will be set up as an independent unified command.

Each service will provide component expertise to the unified command from their unique domain perspectives.  At the same time, the unified cyber command could begin to establish long needed policy in this realm that is so badly needed to establish cyber deterrence, and more effectively normalize cyber operations as fundamental in our contingency plans and planning.

Third, Space and Information:  If your perspective is that integration of air and space as a unified force is the best way to achieve aerospace effects then not much benefit would come from standing up a separate space service.  But there may be value in doing so at some point in the future.

We may arrive at that juncture when our activities in space move from a predominant focus on what’s occurring inside the atmosphere to a greater set of activities focused outside of it.  Human conflict remains on land, at sea, and in the air.  Space is critical to the success of combat in these domains, but combat today remains inside the atmosphere.  Until such lethal combat moves to space, there is little need for a separate space service.

On the other hand, there are those who believe the Nation would benefit from a separate “Space Force,” with a relationship to the Department of the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps’ relationship with the Department of the Navy.  Among the benefits of this option is that if properly organized, the Space Force could consolidate a variety of related, but now segregated organizations, by incorporating the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) as well as gaining responsibility for ballistic missile defense, allowing the Missile Defense Agency to be eliminated.

Furthermore, with a single service—The Space Force—given responsibility for ballistic missile defense, there would be institutional backing to find practical solutions to the challenges posed by ballistic missile proliferation.  Both of these alternatives deserve a comprehensive review.

Regarding information, all the services should have a command that focuses on integrating information effects. The key will be in assembling a concerted approach to achieve information superiority.  Information superiority is the key to winning future conflict, and the sooner the Air Force stands up a Vigilance or Information Command that integrates the effects of ISR, Cyber, and Electronic Warfare, the quicker it will be able to adapt to the information age.

Fourth, Personnel:  We need to create a culture and environment that encourages innovative thinking instead of discouraging it.  More bureaucracy in the Pentagon, and in various headquarters staff, does not help combat capability.  It is worth noting the size of the Pentagon that won World War II was far smaller than the present enterprise.

Our current Defense force management must be changed from a system that values risk avoidance in decision-making to one that accepts risk tolerance as a minimum, and rewards innovative thinking.

Fifth, Concepts of Operation: The United States and allied militaries are at a technology-driven inflection point that will fundamentally reshape what it means to project power.  Advancements in computing and networks are empowering information’s ascent as a dominant factor in warfare.

In the past, the focus of warfare was predominantly on managing the physical elements of a conflict.  In the future, success in warfare will accrue to those who shift focus from a loosely federated construct of force application systems to a highly integrated enterprise collaboratively leveraged through the broad exchange of information.

Said another way, desired effects will increasingly be attained through the interaction of multiple systems, each one sharing information and empowering one-another for a common purpose.  This phenomenon is not restricted to an individual technology or system, nor is it isolated to a specific Service, domain or task.

It is a concept that can loosely be envisioned as a “Combat Cloud”—an operating paradigm where the combat systems of the past become elements in an enterprise where information, data, and command and control practices become the core mission priorities.

The combat cloud concept is somewhat analogous to “cloud computing,” which is based on using networks to rapidly share information across a highly distributed system of systems.  However, instead of combining the computing power of multiple servers, a combat cloud will capitalize on the ubiquitous and seamless sharing of information among weapon systems across multiple domains to rapidly exchange data between sensors and shooters to act as a cohesive whole.

This is why the F-22, F-35, and B-21 are so important.  They’re not just replacement aircraft that fly higher, faster, or are stealthier and more maneuverable than their predecessors—they can act as information nodes that form a sensor-effector complex like we have never done before.

If enabled by secure, jam and intrusion-proof connectivity, a combat cloud may be capable of employing fewer modern combat systems to achieve higher levels of effectiveness, across larger areas of influence, compared to legacy operational concepts.

For example, instead of relying on traditional approaches that mass fighters, bombers, and support aircraft into major strike packages to attack particular targets, a combat cloud could integrate complementary capabilities into a single, combined “weapons system” to conduct disaggregated, distributed operations over an entire operational area.

The physics of future combat platforms will likely not change, but how these systems operate within future battle networks must change to realize the potential of informationized warfare.  In order for combat forces to freely access and distribute information during combat operations, some existing platforms will need modification, but more importantly the Services must develop gateways and relevant infrastructure to seamlessly share information.  This has become “industry standard” for civil commerce, and it must become the new normal for the U.S. military.

Aerospace systems must become “cloud ready” in terms of communications and information management.  Improvements such as avionics bus structural upgrades to permit greater data off boarding, and subscriptions to a variety of external data sources will be required for legacy aircraft.

The concepts of Net-Centric Military Operations, the Joint Information Environment (JIE) and the Joint Airborne Layered Network (JALN) attempt to address the needs mentioned above, but there is still lack of an overarching concept of operations, and that’s the rationale for introducing the combat cloud framework.

We need to link aerospace and information-age capabilities with sea and land-based means to create an omni-present defense complex that is self-forming, and if attacked, self-healing.  This kind of a complex would be so difficult to disrupt that it would possess a conventional deterrent effect that would be stabilizing to where ever it is employed.

The central idea is cross-domain synergy.  The complementary vice merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness, and compensates for the vulnerabilities, of the others.  This will be the basis of the next big thing…what used to be called the third offset strategy.

Sixth, Process:  The nature of large institutions inhibits rapid, decisive action that’s required for success in the information age.  We need to eliminate the ponderous, and excessively regulated acquisition processes that hinder innovation, increase cost, lengthen delivery times, and inhibit effectiveness.  There has been much written and said on this topic, so I will not elaborate here.

However, an example that illustrates our ponderous process is the length of time it took to make the decision on the B-21.  As we move into an ever-accelerating future, the DOD has to learn how to make decisions quicker, and reverse the trend of adding expense and time by paying so much attention to ‘process’ as opposed to ‘product.’

Much of the delay on the B-21 was driven by exquisite attention to excessive procurement rules and regulations in what is apparently greater concern with avoiding litigation that moving on with development of a critically needed capability.

One way ahead is to change the primary measure of merit in program decisions from individual unit cost, to value, or cost per desired effect.

Cost per unit is currently the key measure of merit in procurement decisions.  A more accurate measure of merit that captures real value or capability of a particular system is cost per target engaged, or better yet, cost per desired effect.  In this fashion one is led to consider all the elements required to achieve a specific goal.

We also need to think holistically about how we manage force constitution and acquisition.  We simply cannot afford everything we want.  We must prioritize.  An option to be explored is to look at assessing the strategy via risk.  What training, equipment, personnel expertise, etc. does it take to manifest various strategic options and how long does it take to constitute such capacity?

The nation needs both soldiers and modern aerospace systems to execute its defense strategy.  However, given our limited resources, perhaps we need to take increased risk with force structure that we can reconstitute with relative speed and ease.  We can recruit, train, and make ready soldiers and Marines from the reserves in a matter of months.  It takes years to build an aerospace system and train their key personnel.

When managing forces in a period of austerity, we need to focus on the most complex capabilities that yield the U.S. its asymmetric advantages, while also retaining enough capacity and capability to surge the areas that allow for taking higher risk.

Seventh, Terminology.  We need to think beyond the constraints that traditional military culture imposes on new technology.  For example, 5th generation aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 are termed “fighters,” but technologically, they’re not just “fighters”—they are F-, B-, A, E-, EA, RC, AWACS-22s and 35s.  Similarly, the new “long-range strike bomber or B-21” will possess capabilities much greater than the “bombers” of the past.

These new aircraft are actually more properly described as flying “sensor-shooters” or “sensor-effectors” that will allow us to conduct information age warfare inside contested battlespace whenever we desire—if we fully exploit their “non-traditional” capabilities to the degree that those capabilities become accepted as the new “traditional.”

Modern sensor-shooter aircraft enable the kind of interdependency that I described earlier.  They are the key elements in what will become the combat cloud…enabling our forces to work in an interdependent manner by capitalizing on shared information in a ubiquitous and seamless fashion to achieve desired effects.

Eighth, Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft as they are more properly termed: The impact of RPAs will be much greater than anyone can imagine today.  Not necessarily as the primary means of force application, but in enhancing the capabilities of military operations.  There’s a company out there that used to run a commercial that said this: “We don’t make the things you use, we make the things you use better.”  That will apply to the impact of RPA in the future.  It’s important to understand the advantages of RPA relative to manned vehicles to optimize their application:

PERSISTANCE… RPA allow time to observe, evaluate, and act very quickly, or to take all the time necessary to be sure of a particular action.

RELATIVE INVULNERABILITY… RPA allow us to project power without projecting vulnerability.

PRECISION…They are the most precise means of employing force in a way that reduces collateral damage, and minimizes casualties.

OVERSIGHT… RPAs allow for more “ethical” oversight than any other means of force application.

UTILITY & ECONOMY… RPAs have the potential to amplify the effectiveness of very highly capable aircraft by supplementing their sensor and shooter capabilities…for example they can act as weapons mules, robotic wingman if you will—or carriers of extra weapons for aircraft like F-22s, F-35s, and others…and at a fraction of the cost.

MASS… quantity has a quality all of its own…because RPAs are low cost relative to manned aircraft they can be procured in larger numbers that give rise to new concepts of operation such as swarming, or overwhelming enemy defenses.

The bottom line is RPAs provide users an asymmetric advantage relative to opponents that do not possess them.  The dramatic increases in capabilities of small drones will probably be where the biggest impact lies.

The remotely piloted aircraft that are getting all the attention in the media today are the larger MQ-9 Reapers.  However, there’s an interesting phenomenon taking place that’s not generally apparent.  Commercial markets are accelerating small drone research, and production is quickly outpacing the ponderous, slow, and archaic military acquisition processes.

The number of registered drone owners in the US—500,000—has surpassed the number of registered airplanes and helicopters—about 315,000.

Sensors and RPAs, along with their costs, continue to shrink. Small RPAs are also overcoming the tyranny of distance with both beyond-line-of-sight, and long-endurance capabilities that enables increased density over an objective to complicate an adversary’s engagement solution.

Ninth, Command and Control: While the increase in information velocity is enabling dramatic increases in the effectiveness of combat operations, there is also a downside.

As a result of modern telecommunications, and the ability to rapidly transmit information to, from, and between various levels of command, there are many examples of “information age” operations where tactical level decisions were usurped by commanders at the operational and even strategic levels.

This devolution of the construct of centralized control—decentralized execution to one of centralized control—centralized execution has caused reduced effectiveness in accomplishing mission objectives.  Commanders must discipline themselves to operate at their respective command levels.

The challenges of emerging threats, information velocity, and advanced technologies demand more than a mere evolution of current C2 paradigms, but rather a new approach that capitalizes on the opportunities inherent in those same challenges.

We cannot expect to achieve future success through incremental enhancements to current C2 structures—that method evokes an industrial-age approach that has lost its currency and much of its meaning.

The requirements of information age warfare demand not “spiral development,” but modular, distributed technological maximization that permits and optimizes operational agility.  That kind of agility will not be achieved without dramatic changes to our C2 CONOPS.

We must move toward distributed command and control concepts, and shift from the old “centralized control/decentralized execution” model to one of “centralized command/distributed control/decentralized execution.”

Tenth, Nuclear Forces: The nuclear triad remains critical to U.S. security for five reasons:

1) It provides the needed survivable platforms of aircraft, submarines, and land-based missiles to avoid dangerous instabilities that would result from a submarine only force that would reduce American nuclear assets to less than 10 targets;

2) It provides the needed flexibility of ICBM promptness, SLBM survivability, and bomber recall giving the President capability options to stop aggression using the least force necessary;

3) It guards against technological surprise including an adversary finding our submarines at sea or markedly improving their air defenses;

4) It preserves the land-based ICBM leg of the Triad that with 400 silo-based missiles presents an adversary with the impossible task of targeting the force by surprise; and

5) It provides a significant hedge that allows expansion of the force should current arms control limits be abandoned.

These ten points are a good place to stop, but there’s one more that needs to be addressed.  The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and its associated control mechanism of “sequestration.”

Because there’s no public awareness of what’s happening relative to the reduction in resources allocated to Defense, the hollow force that the BCA is imposing today will not be readily apparent until those forces are required.

What is so devastating about the BCA and sequestration—and not obvious in a 20 second sound bite—is that it is now affecting U.S. capability to provide rapid response sufficient to meet the demands of our security strategy.

The BCA and sequestration’s impact results in a disproportionate loss of national capability because it hinders the Air Force’s role as America’s “first response force.”  The Air Force was designed to deploy and employ quickly.  This quickness buys the Navy and Army time to spin up and steam to the fight.  But sequestration in 2013 did to our Air Force what the most capable enemies of the U.S. could only hope to achieve.  More than 30 squadrons, including 16 combat squadrons—over 20 percent of the Air Force combat force—were grounded, along with aircrews, maintenance, and training personnel.  It undercut our readiness from which we are still trying to recover five years later.

While I’ve focused on the challenges facing the Air Force, the reality is that all America’s Services face similar problems. The Navy is dealing with a historically small fleet, while the Marine Corps and Army must reset after a decade of combat operations.

The BCA and continued threat of sequestration is undercutting all our services.  It was intentionally designed to be so stupid that it would never be enacted…now it’s the law of the land, but it needs to be terminated.

Said another way, we have a growing strategy-resource mismatch, and the dichotomy between what we say we want to accomplish, and what we can actually accomplish is growing.  Without action to eliminate the BCA that mismatch will only get worse.

It’s vitally important to remember that the first responsibility of the United States government is the security of the American people.  As the preamble of our Constitution states, the federal government was established to first, “provide for the common defense” and subsequently to, “promote the general welfare.”

Recent Congressional decisions have confused this prioritization, with sequestration taxing defense spending at a rate greater than twice its percentage of the total federal budget.  It’s time to return to first principles and get our priorities straight.

To put this more clearly, today there are more World War II era P-51 fighters flying in the world than fifth generation F-22s in the entire US Air Force inventory.  While great for the air show industry, I’m not sure whether I like what this means for America’s sustainable air dominance combat capacity.

And regarding budget, it is important to consider that the only thing more expensive than a first-rate Air Force is a second-rate Air Force.


The challenge you all face today is to transform to be able to dominate an operational environment that has yet to evolve, and to counter adversaries who have yet to materialize.  The 9/11 commission report’s now famous summary that the cause of that disaster was a “failure of imagination” cannot be repeated across our security establishment.

In the face of disruptive innovation and cultural change, the military can maintain the status quo, or it can embrace and exploit change.  I suggest that the latter is preferred.  Our services need to learn better how to rapidly adapt new technology to the innovative concepts of operation that technology enables.

Correspondingly, the Nation’s leadership needs to fund our aerospace and defense requirements to support the national security strategy, and reverse the habit of letting disproportionate and arbitrary limits on defense spending drive our security strategy.

The President has recently released a comprehensive National Security Strategy, and the Secretary of Defense a corresponding National Defense Strategy.  Now it’s time to make the case to secure the funding that will allow those strategies to become reality.

All you who are assembled here have the spirit, capability, drive, and intellect to make that happen.  I encourage you to take advantage of this conflux of talent, and together you’ll create a set of capabilities that will actualize our Nation’s ability to succeed in any challenge.

Thanks for the privilege to share my thoughts with you today.  I wish you all the best as you create the way ahead to meet the defense challenges of the future.


Lt Gen David A. Deptula, the Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, and senior scholar at the Air Force Academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development, retired from the United States Air Force in 2010 after 34 years of distinguished service. During his career, he accumulated over 3,000 flying hours, to include over 400 combat hours, and commanded at all levels. His last assignment was as the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) where he was charged with transforming America’s military ISR and drone enterprises. As the Headquarters Air Force’s A2 (HAF/A2), he orchestrated the largest increase in drone operations in Air Force history. Lt Gen Deptula is a renowned leader and pioneer in conceptualizing, planning, and executing national security operations from humanitarian assistance to major combat. Additionally, he was the principal attack planner for the Operation Desert Storm air campaign and commander of no-fly-zone operations over Iraq in the late 1990s. Later in his career, Lt Gen Deptula served as director of the air campaign over Afghanistan, commanded two joint task forces, and was the air commander for the 2005 South Asia tsunami relief operations. Lt Gen Deptula also served on two congressional commissions tasked to outline America’s future defense posture.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the US government.


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