Lieutenant-General Deptula on the Evolution of Airpower

Lt. General Deptula at his retirement speech (Credit Photo: SLD)

What follows are excerpts from Lieutenant- General Deptula’s retirement remarks delivered on August 6, 2010.  Lt General Deptula provided two insightful interviews for our website, and provided solid understanding into a much neglected subject, the evolving relationship between manned and unmanned systems.  Too often policymakers or analysts become platform centric on single operation focused.  Lt. General Deptula never has suffered from such a problem, and his insights provide important inputs to shaping our thinking about the future of air power and of power projection.  These remarks provide an important reminder about the dynamics of change affecting airpower and the challenges ahead.

Excerpts follow.

Lt. General Deptula at his retirement speech (Credit Photo: SLD)Lt. General Deptula at his retirement speech, August 6th, 2010 (Credit Photo: SLD)

Much has changed since I first donned this uniform and accepted the responsibilities of being an American Airman—and thinking, designing, teaching, and applying Air, Space, and Cyber power to accomplish our nation’s objectives…..

I’ve had the opportunity to learn from, and work with, a group of truly talented Airmen who honor me today with their presence….

All of you—and many others—had a hand in driving a dramatic and fundamental shift in the character of warfare over the last quarter of a century—a migration away from industrial age warfare, to an era of achieving precision effects based on rapid and wide dissemination of information.

An example of how much has changed is illustrated by the two aircraft framing the stage—the proven F-15 Eagle which I’ve flown for over 33 years, and the F-22A Raptor.  What makes both these aircraft dominant in the context of their times is not only their speed, agility, weapons and signature—that which defines why we call them ‘fighters’—but rather their ability to gather, process, and rapidly share information.

In the case of the F-15, that information was a treasure trove that only went to the pilot—and we learned to share it only when technology advanced to where it would allow us to do that.  In the case of the F-22—this is an aircraft that was designed from the start with the ability to collect, share, and rapidly act upon information…it’s more a flying sensor platform than its traditional designation that the term “fighter” conveys.

While it’s the most modern and capable combat aircraft in the world today, it’s a nascent indicator of how we’ll approach aircraft design in the future.  Both declining resources and advancing technology are driving us to a future where every sensor is also equipped to be a shooter and every shooter also has integrated sensor capability.

We’re in an information age today and that’s what the ISR transformation that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of leading for the last four years—along with my partners Paul Dettmer and most recently Jim Poss—is all about.

Knowledge is of no greater value today than in the past.  However, what has changed is the ability of how data can be assimilated, synthesized and delivered in time to be useful.  So we built an ISR enterprise with the intent to make the source of information transparent, the analysis good enough to become predictive, and the dissemination immediate.

At the same time, the evolution of technology and information is allowing us to seek a cultural change from the model of the past where operations and intelligence were segregated, to a day where the integration of operations and ISR is the norm.  In the Desert Storm days of 1991 the friction between intel and the ops planners was palatable.  Today I’m happy to say that’s no longer the case, but we must move toward even greater integration.

Still—airpower is about more than finding and sharing information—it’s about compressing time and space as well—about exploiting operations in the third dimension with a speed and agility that our adversaries simply can’t match.

Now, our sister services possess aircraft.  Those aircraft make up the ‘air arms’ of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.  Those air arms are rightfully dedicated to facilitating the core functions of their parent service—operations on the ground, at sea, and in the littorals.

There is however, only one air force—it is not just another air arm, but rather a service specifically dedicated and structured to exploit the advantages of operating in the third dimension.  It’s this unique and specific focus that keeps our Nation on the leading edge of the challenges we face…or in other words, makes aerospace power one of America’s asymmetric advantages.

Today, our joint forces have the highest battlefield survivability rates not only because of the advances in medicine—but also due to our ability to rapidly get our wounded to critical care facilities… by air.

Today, unlike the contests of the past—our joint forces go into combat with more information about the threat they face, and have better situational awareness provided in near real-time, and they get that information… from air and space, through cyberspace.

Today, unlike the past, our joint task forces are able to operate with much smaller numbers, across great distances and inhospitable terrain because they can be sustained over the long-haul… by air.

Today, navigation and precise location anywhere on the surface of the earth for application in both peace and war is provided by an Air Force GPS constellation… from space.

Today, not only do surface forces receive firepower from the air when they need it, but the adversaries our Nation views as the greatest threat to our security are being eliminated by direct attack… from the air.

Over the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, Airmen have created a structure of capabilities that have become ubiquitous…as a result, the Air Force has become an indispensible force…now that’s both a blessing… and a challenge.

We’ve made it look easy when it’s not, and as a result too many take what we do for granted… education and awareness are the solution…and our partners in the Air Force Association are helping to make that happen.  For that we thank you.

Air, Space, and Cyber power are based on the characteristics of technology—but the invention, design, development, fielding and application of those instruments flow from human imagination, knowledge, and capabilities.  American Airmen have harnessed technological capabilities to the ever-evolving requirements of national security by deterring potential adversaries; flying, fighting, and winning when necessary; by capitalizing on the virtues of air and space to project power without projecting vulnerability; and as a result, they provide our national leadership with strategic alternatives.

This is a proud heritage and a legacy that we must continue….


***Posted on August 24th, 2010