My Perspective: The right ‘Design’ is vital for our future

  • Published
  • By Col. G. Hall Sebren, Jr.
  • 72nd Air Base Wing

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of commentaries laying out the priorities of the Tinker installation commander.)

This is my last commentary laying out priorities based off the Action Orders laid out by Air Force Chief of Staff, General C.Q. Brown Jr. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read the first three commentaries which discuss the importance of taking care of our Airmen, getting rid of bureaucracy that’s holding us down, and being ready for any competition that comes our way.

This month, we will discuss Action Order D: Design Implementation.

Action Order D directs us to accelerate the transition from the force that exists today to the Air Force the nation needs, first focusing on China then Russia, at fiscally-informed and acceptable levels of risk to mission, force, and security.

That’s a lot of words, but what does that mean to an Airman or GS-03? Does it mean the same thing to an O-6 or GS-15/NH-04? In plain English, this means we need to change how we do business and do it quickly. It means we need to be more effective and efficient in our current process while actively seeking new ways to adapt technology and new thinking into everything we do.

General Brown said we need to begin by determining what we will need in the future and then make decisions now that support the vision. “Future” is a nebulous word but there is a reason for it. We do not know, with certainty what any other nation is going to do or when they might do it. Because of this we should strive to be ready all the time and in the case of potential conflict with China we should interpret ‘future’ as very near term.

Aside from what I just laid out our leaders are telling us about the breathtaking scope and speed of military modernization by the People’s Republic of China. This coincides with China’s increasingly aggressive behavior to exert influence over its neighbors. The U.S. has identified the PRC as our pacing threat because it has the capacity and demonstrated will to challenge the U.S. economically, technologically, politically, and militarily.

War with China is not inevitable. However, if you’re like me, and I know many of you are, you believe we should always be ready. Being ready now – today – with a motivated, well-trained, and equipped joint team is the foundation of deterrence.

We are part of the Air Force acquisition, technology, and logistics system. We are key players in those systems, which need to operate at the speed of relevance and needs a bit of a kick start to get moving a little faster. Our DoD and Air Force leaders are beating a drum to encourage and motivate us to be ready to meet the challenges of current and future threats. I want you to be the person who is the kickstarter where you work.

What does that mean for us at Tinker Air Force Base? How do you get that kickstart going? This information might help you frame the situation. We are a strategic hub for America. We host a nuclear command and control wing, an air control wing, an air refueling wing, and the Air Logistics Complex whose charge it is to sustain strategic communications aircraft, strategic and tactical bomber fleets, strategic tanker fleets, and our airborne command and control platform, the E-3 Sentry. Those wings need to be ready now, and we in the 72d Air Base Wing are their support. Any conflict, in any region, is going to require their complete focus and we must ensure we are doing everything we can to make them as combat capable as they can be to fly, fight and win.

Where do you come into the picture and what does design mean to you? You are at the center of this effort. What you do literally enables every function on this base. How you design your training program, or your on-board program affects how quickly and how accurately the force is trained to do its mission. How you design the flow of your processes to include your physical space and how people flow through your physical spaces affects how quickly our mission partners are either trained or equipped to do their wartime mission.

What are you doing, right now, to look at and optimize these designs? Getting this done at the time of conflict is actually too late! You need to be doing that today, if you’re not already. Time of conflict is too late because you and our mission partners need time to train with new systems and work through new processes or new technology. We can’t wait…you can’t wait. We must move faster now.

General Brown said: “We need to identify systems and programs that are outdated and/or unaffordable to make way for capabilities that will make us competitive in the future high-end fight.” He also said: “Finally, and most importantly, we as an Air Force need to understand our future design so that we can consistently explain it to all stakeholders, to include Congress and our industry partners.”

As you probably have seen through different tours that come to your areas or from articles we have put out, the 72 ABW team has been inviting senior leaders from across the DoD and Congress to come see our facilities and understand our challenges. We will continue this effort…but the help they might provide is years away, the first chance to see their help would be in FY25, likely the end of FY25. And that is a big “IF.” Money in FY25 really means construction in late FY26 and building complete about two years later, based on how our current projects are building out. If that money is for new systems, the timeline is about the same. We must work with what we have now and make it as effective, efficient, and combat ready as we can.

We need to look at underperforming or unaffordable programs and make hard decisions on whether to keep funding them. That’s where we need your help. If you see programs in your unit that leaders need to look closely at, let someone know. Treat this as if your own personal funds were being used. If you’re paying for HBO but never watch it because Game of Thrones has ended, it’s probably time to cancel and stop paying that monthly bill. The same is true here. We can’t keep funneling taxpayer money into programs that are no longer fiscally sound or more importantly, do not lead to increased readiness or combat capability. It is time to redesign.

We must design our exercises to produce effects beyond our fence line. We must project strength through tough, coordinated exercises so our adversaries can see we’re training…training hard. Maybe this will serve as enough deterrence to prevent a fight. But if it does not, we’ll be ready to execute our portion of the mission with speed, aggression, and resolve.

Your leadership teams are working hard to remove roadblocks to your success and the success of the mission. What are you doing to make us a more effective, more lethal, combat force? Let your ideas be heard. Supervisors create the opportunity for your subordinates to be heard. With everyone’s minds working together we can overcome our current shortfalls and win. We need, I need, you and your talents to get us there. Let’s get after it together…right now!