“Mission over function” – Developing combat-effective Airmen for Great Power Competition

  • Published
  • By Dan Hawkins
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

Unprecedented changes to the global security environment are driving sweeping reforms to the way the U.S. Air Force will develop, deploy, and employ combat forces and capabilities to defend the United States, allies and partners nations around the world.

Officials from Air Education and Training Command, which will be redesignated as Airman Development Command, are rapidly redesigning core institutional training and development architectures to support Great Power Competition. This includes designing education and training for the future force with a “mission over function” mindset, where the primary focus is on developing Airmen to emphasize their shared military purpose and mission objectives over individual functional roles. 

“Success in today’s strategic environment requires a force aligned and focused on the requirements and attributes that will keep us competitive,” said Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, commander, AETC. “In the context of the U.S. Air Force, ‘mission over function’ emphasizes prioritizing mission success over organizational silos.  When it comes to GPC, we are laser focused on developing our Airmen first, ensuring they are mission ready, with the skills we need to succeed as we transform into a more expeditionary force with deployable combat wings.” 

As the Department of the Air Force implements major changes, the ADC will develop Airmen with a mission first mindset, and serve as the institutional major command responsible recruiting, training, educating and developing resilient, mission ready Airmen who thrive in complex and contested environments. 

“This mindset helps us create an optimized, functionally informed, and agile force development command that effectively accelerates the journey from recruitment to operational deployment, aligns learning content with operational feedback and future capabilities, and precisely matches talent with Air Force requirements,” Robinson said. “Ultimately, our purpose is to enhance the Air Force’s operational readiness by fostering rapid content development, precision talent management, and training pathway agility, ensuring the force remains adaptable, resilient and strategically adept.” 

In this construct, force design and operational feedback will serve as the guiding North Star in the overall development of Airmen. 

The ADC’s centers of excellence at the Headquarters and Numbered Air Force levels will serve as primary focal points for early integration and coordination with Air Force Materiel Command, Air Combat Command, the service component commands, and the Integrated Capabilities Command regarding sustainment, operational feedback and future capabilities development, ensuring initial skills training and leader development incorporates the competencies every Airman needs for success in GPC.  

“With ADC owning overall responsibility for force development, the training for new weapons systems is less likely to be an afterthought due to our ability to integrate with ICC to prepare that training through a mission perspective lens,” Robinson said. “The COEs will expeditiously provide enterprise-focused training and education solutions to support the operationalization of new integrated capabilities in collaboration with the other institutional commands.” 

According to the USAF’s The Case For Change, developing personnel is a deliberate priority requiring a dedicated and unified effort to attract, retain and nurture the talent and specialized skills demanded by the emerging strategic landscape. The Air Force must cultivate Mission Ready Airmen—individuals with the expertise and versatile skillsets required to win in various operational scenarios. The personnel we need requires optimizing the force we have by centralizing force development, reinvigorating our warrior ethos to create Mission Ready Airmen, and establishing robust and effective paths for technical areas critical to creating competitive advantage. 

“Tomorrow’s Airmen will remain technical experts, but they will also be trained to be mission-ready with additional skills and competencies,” Robinson said. “This includes the concept of mission command, which will allow them to make bold decisions and take advantage of fleeting opportunities to fight and win multiple fights as agile teams. This type of leadership doesn’t just happen. It takes intentional development and practice.” 

Additionally, The Case For Change emphasizes centralizing specific facets of force development under a single commander will streamline the coordination, integration, and execution of Air Force training and education initiatives. This centralization will enable the identification and evaluation of specific areas of Airman development that are common and would benefit from a concentrated, integrated approach. This will ensure a more standardized Airman experience and development with a shared understanding of the threat environment.  

The desired outcome is the development of the right Airmen for the right place and time, a skilled cadre well-prepared for future challenges, and a cohesive workforce adept at competing effectively—poised to surge and sustain operations during times of conflict. This transition also requires the appropriate renaming of AETC to ADC, reinforcing its focus on shaping the Airmen of tomorrow. 

Efficiencies to having force development under a single commander include: 

  • A single focal point to consolidate and respond to warfighter training requirements that allow the command to rapidly deliver new curriculum that enables the more rapid expansion of training production in a crisis or conflict. 

  • Enables force providers and components the ability to focus on combat readiness training vice institutional training. 

  • Improved relationships with industry and provides a single advocate for training modernization research and development and increases the opportunity for new technology use in training at scale. 

One example of a mission transitioning to ADC ownership is the development team process, which provides the tools to be accountable for career field succession plans and force development vectors with ultimate responsibility residing with the ADC commander. 

“We are transitioning functional force development requirements to ADC while still being advised by functional authorities on the competencies needed by Airmen in the field,” Robinson said. “With multiple functional communities individually directing development in a variety of ways, enterprise needs can sometimes take a backseat to functional career field needs.” 

The ADC will provide that holistic, enterprise integration and assessment, via a single commander with the requisite force development authorities to make enterprise-level decisions. 

“We're out of time, and we have to really think differently and figure out how we develop the force at the speed of need and relevance,” Robinson said. “Our strategic advantage is our Airmen. Our sole focus for ADC is making sure our enlisted Airmen, officers and civilians are prepared sooner to be credible, capable, and competent in delivering unstoppable air and space power to detect, deter, confront, and if called upon, combat and defeat potential adversaries.”