The St. Andrews Proclamation: A Pragmatic Assessment of 21st Century Airpower

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce the latest installment in its Mitchell Institute Policy Papers series, “The St. Andrews Proclamation: A Pragmatic Assessment of 21st Century Airpower,” by Lt Gen David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.), Mitchell’s dean.

Adapted from a speech Deptula delivered in May at a conference on airpower hosted by the University of St. Andrews’ Institute for the Study of War and Strategy, Deptula offers up an assessment of the state of modern airpower as an instrument of national security and warfare, and how it will evolve in new ways as the 21st century progresses. Today, he notes, airpower technology has caught up with and in many ways bypassed the goals first envisioned by airpower theorists in the first decades of the 20th century. In the future, the US and its allies should not be bound by the “historical limitations of surface warfare-based doctrines of airpower supporting ground forces, but rather should advocate and articulate the tactical, operational, and strategic advantages of engagement options where airpower is the key force,” Deptula writes.

The proliferation of modern military technology, the increasing speed of information flows, and the associated empowerment of both allied and adversary nation states, organizations, and individuals present a daunting set of security challenges for the US and its allies, Deptula notes. But in this environment, new technologies and new ways of thinking about warfare must supplement traditional combined arms warfare if the United States is to succeed in future combined military campaigns. By embracing new and emerging technology areas such as uninhabited and autonomously operated aerial vehicles, more rapid space operations and effects, hypersonic weapons, directed energy, and artificial intelligence (among other new and emerging tools and capabilities), and pairing them with new operational concepts and approaches—such as the “combat cloud”—America and its allies could transform the way modern warfare is waged, and turn the tables rapidly on potential adversaries who are seeking to negate the US’ traditional strengths in global power projection. “In the face of disruptive innovation and cultural change, the US military and its peers can maintain the status quo, or they can embrace and exploit change,” Deptula writes. “I suggest the latter is preferred.”

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