Air University gets curriculum overhaul focusing on international competitors

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MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — U.S. Air Force officer candidates enrolled in the Officer Preparatory Academy share a long stretch of tables on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in East Tennessee, sometime in the early 1970s. OPA’s named changed to the Academy of Military Science in 1973. For some time, a majority of Air National Guard officers earned their commissions through AMS. (U.S. Air National Guard file photo)


By Billy Blankenship

Air University Public Affairs

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) —  

Addressing the ever-shifting dynamics of the global political and military landscapes, Air University has undertaken the most significant overhaul of professional military education since the end of the Cold War.

The overhaul significantly increases classroom instruction covering the nation’s competitors, specifically China and Russia, at all levels of PME and in many of its other programs and courses such as the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.

With the start of academic year 2022 this past August, 40% of officer PME curricula is now focused on China and 60% on competition overall, including Russia. Considerable increases on competition were also made in all levels of enlisted PME and Air University’s officer accession programs, Air Force ROTC and Air Force Officer Training School.

“From our junior enlisted students and officer candidates to our seasoned military, civilians, and allied and partner students, we are deliberately and actively expanding our understanding and defining our role in how to ‘fight and win’ in strategic competitions,” said Lt. Gen. James Hecker, Air University commander and president. “The significant overhaul of our curricula at all levels goes to the heart of accelerating change in our ways of doing business, whether on the battlefield or in the classroom.”

Air University started modifying its curriculum to meet these Secretary of Defense-directed milestones late in academic year 2021 and fully implemented revised curricula at the start of the 2022 academic year. The increased academic focus on the nation’s competitors also aligns with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s Action Order C: Competition.

“We are in full support of the current Interim National Security Strategy Guidance and will adjust as additional strategic documents and guidance come forward,” said Dr. Mark Conversino, Air University’s chief academic officer. “We are executing curricula for both in-residence and distance learning programs in all officer and enlisted PME, though the depth and breadth of the material covered is dependent on the level of PME and/or length of the program overall.”

Students attending Air University’s 10-month schools, such as School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air War College and Air Command and Staff College, and enrolled in its PME distance learning courses, will deep-dive into topics such as China and Russia’s military and political decision-making structures; national defense strategies; military strengths and weaknesses in air, space and cyberspace; and existing and emerging technologies. Toward the end of their respective school years, students at AWC and ACSC will apply all that they have learned throughout the academic year in wargames geared toward competitors.

Squadron Officer School students will examine international relations, globalization and Chinese interests in the Pacific region. Their study of competitors during the five-week school will also cover topics such as China’s use of all its instruments of national power, including influence and information operations, and an Arctic-based scenario considering China and Russia’s activities in the region. SOS students also will take part in a joint all-domain wargame, exposing them to Chinese force structure and military strategy.

Chinese military strategy and its and Russia’s roles as strategic actors and threats to U.S. interests are now new topics in enlisted PME curricula generated by the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education.

From Airmen Leadership School to Air Force Noncommissioned Academy and Air Force Senior NCO Academy, enlisted members learn of competitors through applicable “mission labs,” including curricula on Artic-based scenarios. At the more-strategic level, enlisted students attending the Chief Master Sergeant Leadership Course, the pinnacle of enlisted PME, examine Chinese and Russian strategies and interests and China as a peer competitor exercising all the instruments of national power.

Deliberately increasing the focus on competitors in enlisted PME is in lock step with Air Force leaderships’ desire to develop enlisted Airmen.

In the just-released Enlisted Force Development: Action Plan 2022-2023, Objective D for “Competition-Focused Force” states that the Barnes Center will assist to “educate Airmen on the continuum of conflict and the attributes needed to ‘compete, deter and win’ in professional military education … .”

“Our world is rapidly changing in the blink of an eye, and future conflict will never look like it did in the past,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass. “The type of Airmen that we need in today’s military is very different than when I first came in. We have to have Airmen with creativity and diversity of thought and intellectual acumen to help us get after the Air Force we need so we’re ready for a high-end fight.”

While the Barnes Center is addressing enlisted PME, the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development is increasing competition topics in its curricula for officer cadets in its AFROTC and Officer Training School programs.

Working with experts from the China Aerospace Studies Institute here, the Holm Center developed eight specific competition-focused lessons for both ROTC and OTS. The center is also teaming with MGMWERX to develop a virtual exercise scenario for the cadets in the programs.

Reaching the upper echelon of commissioned officer ranks, the Air Force Culture and Language Center here added several competition modules to its General Officer Pre-Assignment Acculturation Course. These modules include China’s strategy and activities across not only Asia, but Europe and Africa as well. The formal, tailored course provides instruction on region-specific culture to prepare general officers for key overseas assignments. Among other initiatives, the Center added a new type of language immersion that combines language training with a competition-relevant topic so that its more than 800 Language Enabled Airman Scholars of all ranks are more conversant on the topic in the target language.