March 03, 2021
Air, Space, and the Biden Administration
Defense was not a central topic during the recent election, but nonetheless the Biden administration takes office amid tremendous national security pressures. World events will demand great focus on national security and—in particular—on aerospace power fielded by the Air Force and Space Force, which will prove indispensable as leaders navigate complex geopolitical headwinds.
Circumstances in both branches are fragile after three decades of heavy use, underfunding, and following a string of incorrect assumptions and poor decisions built on the ill-conceived notion that air and space assets exist only to support surface forces. The truth is that no matter what challenges the U.S. faces in the years ahead, air and space capabilities are vital. Air superiority and air mobility are essential for any successful military operation; long-range strike holds at risk adversaries’ war-making capacity; space delivers global command and control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Air and space C4ISR enable all military operations.
“The fundamental defense of the United States and the ability to project power forward will always be for America naval and air and space power,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said in December. “The defense of the United States depends on air power and sea power, primarily. People can say what they want and argue what they want, but that’s a reality.”
The demand signal driving defense strategy begins with China and its increasingly aggressive posture in the Pacific; Russia and its intimidation of neighbors like Ukraine, along with opportunism in Syria; Iran and North Korea, pressing their nuclear ambitions; and nonstate actors like the Islamic State and al Qaeda, which remain threats to stability throughout southwest Asia. Those are just the known challenges. As history shows, from Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the United States has a spotty track record when it comes to unanticipated security challenges. What is certain, however, is that air and space will be in demand—no matter what. That cannot be said of the other services. Naval power is of limited use in land-locked regions, which represent more than a quarter of the countries on Earth, and armies are ineffective at sea, but air and space encompass 100 percent of the globe and can access any part of it faster than any other force. Combatant command (COCOM) war plans reflect this.
What follows are four steps that are fundamental for the Biden Administration to implement in order to secure American defense and prosperity.