United States Air Force Training Program Analysis

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United States Air Force Training Program Analysis

Abstract

Training and development is a key component to the success of any organization. The United States Air Force (USAF) has the challenge of delivering training to 643,346 Active Duty, Officers and Enlisted Airmen. In addition there are 141,237 US Civilians who also require training and development and work together with the Airmen. There are several methods by which are organization can deliver training. Modern technology has evolved the way training is delivered. Traditionally classroom-based instruction was the only way to receive training. The internet has paved the way to web-based learning where participants can take training classes anywhere in the world and sometimes even at their own pace. This paper will analyze the current state of the USAF training program using a sample of a few of the programs. It will also explore the future possibilities for the organization with regard to training. Findings from this research suggest the USAF is adapting to changes and is very responsive to changes in the external environment that effect the organization. While training is a top priority, the USAF is subject to budget constraints as approved by the United States Congress. This can change depending on which political party is in control of the White House and/or Congress.

United States Air Force Training Analysis

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the USAF training program and how it effects the current status of the organization as well as what the future possibilities are for the organization. This paper will be focusing on the USAF training organizations and how they support the mission and vision of the USAF. This text will examine and analyze USAF training organizations such as Air Education and Training Command (AETC) and Air University (AU). Included in this text will be an examination of how the USAF has partnered with other universities to help Airmen continue education and training as part of the Corporate University model of organization.

Organizational Description

President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 that created the Department of the Air Force. The legislation ended a 40-year association with the U.S. Army. The vision of the USAF is to be a trusted and reliable partner with other military services. The organization values integrity in all activities and prioritizes the joint mission of the U.S. military. USAF will be a trusted and reliable partner by providing air, space and cyber capabilities to the war fighter (The U.S. Air Force, 2006).

Within the USAF is the AETC, which was established and activated in 1942. According to the USAF, AETC’s training mission makes it the first command to touch the lives of nearly every Air Force member. Since its establishment, more than 25 million students have graduated from AETC training and education programs. This number is noticeably high not only due to the age of the organization but also the breadth and depth of training and education provided. Training and education are career-long pursuits for airmen of every rank within the USAF (Air Education and Training Command, 2014).

Every airman in the USAF begins with Basic Military Training. The training is conducted at JBSA-Lackland, Texas and the facility sees between 20,000 and 30,000 civilians transform into motivated and disciplined airmen. The skills taught during this training include, “basic war skills, military discipline, physical fitness, drill and ceremonies, Air Force core values, and a comprehensive range of subjects relating to Air Force life” (Air Education and Training Command, 2014).

Technical training is where Airmen begin to learn the technical skills they need for their careers. There are six different installations that conduct training and each base is responsible for a specific portion of the technical training needed for Airmen to support the USAF Mission. The mission of technical training is accomplished by, “highly trained instructors conduct technical training in specialties such as aircraft maintenance, missile maintenance, civil engineering, medical services, computer systems, security forces, air traffic control, weather, personnel, cyberspace support, intelligence, fire fighting, and space and missile operations” (Air Education and Training Command, 2014).

In a SWOT Analysis, strengths and weaknesses are the characteristics of a business organization that give it an advantage or disadvantage over businesses. Opportunities and threats are aspects of the external environment that a business or organization could use to its advantage While a SWOT analysis may not fully apply to an organization such as the US Air Force, it can still be a useful tool to evaluate the training program and its influence on the current status of the program as well as future possibilities.

Current Status

The Air Force has been concerned about training the future generation of Airmen. An article written in 2009 supports this fact. General Stephen Lorenz was the leader of the AETC at the time and his comments were revealing. He cited three main challenges of , “limited resources, modernizing the Air Force’s aging air and space inventories and maintaining flexibility to meet future training requirements” (Rosine, 2009).

There are training challenges within all three issues General Lorenz described. Limited resources are an issue for most companies. The Air Force budget is at the mercy of the United States Congress and politics plays a significant role which the budget depending on which political party controls Congress and the White House. The Republican Party favors a higher spending budget for defense while the Democratic Party favors a lower spending budget. Being asked to do more with less has a significant effect on the USAF training program. Lorenz elaborates on limited resources, stating, “Just like everyone else, we have big challenges because we are balancing shortfalls across our command while striving to meet increased goals in recruiting and student production,” the general said. “Our leaders have to make wise decisions about where to put their focus, because they only have so much money, manpower and time” (Rosine, 2009).

When companies or organizations experiences budgetary shortfalls, training is often the first department to be downsized or eliminated. This is not an option for an organization such as the USAF, who’s mission it is to, “fly, fight  and win … in air, space, and cyberspace” (The U.S. Air Force, 2006).Therefore, as General Lorenz stated, the organization must find ways to do more with less and still deliver necessary training to all levels of Airmen

The second challenge, dealing with an aging air fleet, has caused the USAF to change inspection routines to ensure a greater level of safety. This change in inspection methods will lead to corresponding changes in training content. Aligning training to achieve strategic organizational goals is an example of how the USAF uses training as a competitive advantage.

The third challenge facing the AETC, maintaining flexibility to meet future training requirements, can be attributed to new technological developments. In the book, Employee Training and Development, author Raymond Noe writes, “advances in sophisticated technology along with reduced costs for the technology are changing the delivery of training, making training more realistic, and giving employees the opportunity to choose where and when they will work. New technologies allow training to occur at any time and any place” (p. 35, 2017).

While technology can be a benefit to organizations in delivering training, it can also be a disadvantage if the organization doesn’t learn to integrate new technology into its training plan. For the AETC the challenge, “is remaining flexible enough to provide relevant training as the world changes. Our force is constantly learning and growing in the field, and we must take these lessons and transfer them to the next generation of Airmen” (Rosine, 2009).

Adjusting training programs according to technology capabilities isn’t a challenge unique to a single business sector. However, opportunities and threats from the SWOT model exist with the change in technology. Leadership for the AETC recognizes, “we must adopt processes to quickly incorporate what we’ve learned into our curriculum. We also have to adjust to changing demands due to the current fight, including a dramatic increase in the demand for battlefield Airmen, (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) operators and special operations pilots” (Rosine, 2009).

The future implications of new technology for training and the USAF are heavily focused on the future generation of Airmen and what they features they want in a training program. One of ways that leadership used to determine the training needs of Airmen is through surveys. The AETC conducted Future Learning Survey in 2008 to discover those training needs. The survey gave some interesting insight as it, “revealed that today’s Airmen are increasingly familiar to new innovative technologies, and AETC plans accommodate their growing affinity for technology” (Rosine, 2009).

While the future generation of Airmen, and employees in organizations across the United States, are more comfortable with new technologies, companies must decide what balance they will try to achieve between traditional and non-traditional training methods. Web-based instruction as opposed to classroom instruction is often where training outcomes and decisions are weighed.

Noe cites several research results in Employee and Training Development regarding the effectiveness of online learning. Results varied in support for classroom-based and web-based instruction. Research suggests that web-based instruction, “appears to be more effective than classroom instruction (1) when learners are provided with control over content, sequence, and pace; (2) in long courses; and (3) when learners are able to practice the content and receive feedback” (Noe, 2017).

The leadership of the AETC understands there are different learning styles among the Airmen that will need to be addressed in order to have a successful training program. Rosine quotes General Lorenz, saying “our job is to find the right mix of technologies and learning techniques to allow each Airman to reach his or her potential for service. This means that we use the most effective means to deliver education and training” (p. 16, 2009).

The USAF takes a blended learning approach to training. There are many companies who have opted for a blended learning plan. In regard to blended learning, Noe writes, “blended learning combines online learning, face-to-face instruction, and other methods for distributing learning content and instruction” (p. 356, 2017). Noe further supports the case for blended learning stating this method incorporates the positive features of web-based instruction and classroom-based instruction while minimizing the negative features. It’s important to reiterate that web-based instruction can include online learning, distance learning and mobile technology.

The AETC delivers training to a diverse workforce that is sometimes spread out across the globe. The diverse workforce across the globe leads to a variety of learners. This variety of learners require a variety of learning methods. General Lorenz acknowledges, “we all learn differently. For example, some of us learn best from reading while others like to talk about the course material. I’m excited about the possibilities of teaching and training Airmen according to their own learning styles” (Rosine, 2009).

AU plays a significant role in USAF training as the educational institution, “provides the full spectrum of Air Force education from pre-commissioning to all levels of professional military education, including degree granting and professional continuing education for officers, enlisted and civilian personnel throughout their careers” (Air University, 2004)

AU is the method by which the USAF shapes its future leadership. AU accomplishes this through, “specialized professional continuing educational programs provide scientific, technological, managerial and other professional expertise to meet the needs of the Air Force. Air University conducts research in air and space power, education, leadership and management. The university also provides citizenship programs and contributes to the development and testing of Air Force doctrine, concepts and strategy” (Air University, 2004).

As part of the blended learning approach, the USAF has partnered with universities such as Webster University to further education of its Airmen. In addition to AU, Webster University is also part of the centralized training model for the USAF. The Corporate University model can provide several training advantages. According to Noe, “a corporate university can help make learning more strategic by providing a clear mission and vision for learning , and ensuring it is aligned with business needs” (p. 93, 2017). In addition to providing a more strategic approach, the corporate university model can build partnership with academic institutions.

The Department of Defense’s partnership with Webster University is an example of the corporate university model. Webster University opened its first military campus in 1974. Webster University currently has 37 military locations across all branches of the military. There are 14 Webster campuses at Air Force locations which are overseen by the Office of Military Affairs (OMA). The OMA is responsible for the coordination of Webster’s education programs at its military locations. In addition to delivering education, the OMA, “maintains Webster’s alliances with federal and state agencies and advises the University’s leadership on military-related issues and opportunities across all branches of our government, including the Department of Defense’s student base for non-degree offerings, undergraduate-completion, undergraduate, and graduate degree programs” (Military Education, n.d.).

Future Possibilities

The USAF has some of the brightest minds in the world working in highly technical disciplines. This directly influences the future possibilities for the USAF training program. Rosine quotes General Lorenz, saying, “In the future, we may deliver training and education in new ways, perhaps through experiences in ‘Second Life’ or self-paced courses that allow a student to learn at his or her own speed” (p. 16, 2009).

Second-Life is an example of a virtual world. Noe writes that it is a, “simulated online three-dimensional representation of the real world where learning programs can be hosted” (p. 358, 2017). Virtual reality can provide similar experiences. It is a computer-based technology where trainees use equipment that allows them to feel like they are actually in the particular environment where the training tasks are performed. Simulations can go as far as trainees experiencing a sense of motions or emotions such as an unhappy customer.

Although there are several opportunities with virtual reality and virtual worlds with training, the USAF is still looking for input on how to improve its training. The USAF is taking a crowd-sourcing approach to address how to address some training issues discovered during a recent training program for pilots called Pilot Training Next. The training uses simulators and virtual reality, but there were problems identified during the inaugural training period.

The USAF is serious enough about solving problem with the program that it is willing to pay $300,000 for ideas from companies that could even lead to follow on contracts and end up being worth millions of dollars. The USAF is hoping to replace its current artificial intelligence tutor with a model that is capable of tailoring instruction to student needs. In addition to the new artificial intelligence instructor, the USAF identified the need to incorporate a high-end biometric software that will track heart rate and other indicators of cognitive function. (Bollinger, 2018)

Solutions proposed to the USAF from this initiative will require updates to the training and development program for fighter pilots. It is possible that the same technology solutions will be applied across all of the USAF. It is most likely that the AETC would oversee this training as the centralized training organization. When the USAF chooses a solution, it is highly likely that the selected organization would provide the initial training or even train the USAF trainers to train the participants in the program.

The greatest indication of what the future possibilities are is the AETC Strategic Plan. The 2018 Strategic Plan states the current vision is the, “AETC will revolutionize its force development paradigm to meet the needs of a more challenging and dynamic national security environment. We will identify and employ opportunities presented by innovation proactively and collaboratively so the Command remains aware of the opportunities” (2018 Strategic Plan, 2018). The 2018 Strategic Plan sets forth the areas of focus for the year. Emerging Technologies, Games and Simulations, Experiential Learning, Big-Data Analytics.

The plan to achieve success in the area of Emerging Technologies includes, “design, manage and sustain a force development infrastructure that leverages emergent technology where and when appropriate to include: abundant computing devices, flexible classroom designs, innovative visual displays, games and simulations, collaborative tools, and mechanisms that both assess and track Airmen’s learning efforts” (2018 Strategic Plan, 2018).

Simulation technology will play a significant role for the AETC and the goal is to, “keep pace with operational training demands to maximize mission readiness” (2018 Strategic Plan, 2018).

Two of the biggest items in the 2018 Strategic Plan are experiential learning and big-data analytics. The goal is to grow opportunities for Airmen to learn anywhere and on any device. This will be achieved by AETC organizations moving, “to cloud-based systems that support cross-domain and multi-system learning. Schoolhouses will provide more opportunities for students to obtain “real-world skills” that are current and relevant” (2018 Strategic Plan, 2018).

Finally, one of the biggest topics in training and development across all businesses is big data analytics. The move to digital data storage has created a need to create methods to evaluate large sets of data.

The most dramatic factor shaping the future of force development is big-data analytics. As we have transitioned from analog to digital data storage, the volume and variety of data has grown exponentially. The AETC hopes to achieve, “decision making based on predictive algorithms for accession, certification, attrition and future outcomes such as course-taking patterns. Armed with big-data analytics, AETC will embrace data-driven decision making to ensure a successful transition to its Airmen-centric force development” (2018 Strategic Plan, 2018).

As a part of embracing big-data analytics, the AETC will have a centralized location to track all Airmen lifetime education. This includes specialized training or education and on-the-job or off-duty training. This will be an upgrade over the current method where, “Airmen’s learning is documented in multiple, stove-piped learning systems, with no central tracking mechanism in place to identify competencies, which can prevent commanders at all levels from putting Airmen in the right positions to accomplish the mission” (Cloud-based Air Force learning ecosystem to give control and “21st Cen., 2018).

The ecosystem will be in beta testing in 2019 and full operational capability is expected in 2020. This will allow Airmen to access the learning ecosystem from work, home or any mobile device. It will also have social aspects with online communities that will be tailored to their technical specialty. Dr. Matthew Stafford, AETC chief learning officer said, “The Air Force has come to accept that innovation for the future is going to start with Airmen. That means we have to design our learning environments differently to promote that kind of ingenuity” (Cloud-based Air Force learning ecosystem to give control and “21st Cen., 2018).

Conclusion

 The USAF has been training Airmen since its creation shortly after WWII. It is well known for providing quality training throughout the entire career of its soldier. The USAF provides starts with the most basic training tasks and progresses to high level technical and professional training. While training is a strength for the USAF, there are challenges that arise as technology advances and new generations progress through the ranks. While it appears that current leadership is cognizant of the need to adapt to new technology and the change in types of training with which Airmen are comfortable, it may be necessary to look outside the organization and outsource training.

 In conclusion, the USAF has a robust and thorough training program that addresses different learning types and different generations. It takes into account training all levels of Airmen and includes progression planning into its training. The organization has shown the willingness and capability to adapt with changes and outsource when the solutions don’t appear to be within their capabilities. The USAF is a good example of organizations who successfully train its employees.

References

  • 2018 AETC Strategic Plan. (2018, February 9). Retrieved December 17, 2018, from https://www.aetc.af.mil/Portals/88/Documents/2018 AETC Strategic Plan – Final.pdf?ver=2018-02-09-110329-537
  • Air Education and Training Command. (2014, October 06). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104471/air-education-and-training-command/
  • Air University. (2004, January 06). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104493/air-university/
  • Bolinger, J. (2018, October 19). Air Force willing to pay $300K for ideas that revolutionize pilot training. Retrieved December 14, 2018, from https://www.stripes.com/news/us/air-force-willing-to-pay-300k-for-ideas-that-revolutionize-pilot-training-1.552473
  • Cloud-based Air Force learning ecosystem to give control and “21st Cen. (2018, September 24). Retrieved December 17, 2018, from https://www.aetc.af.mil/News/Article/1642360/cloud-based-air-force-learning-ecosystem-to-give-control-and-21st-century-speed/
  • Home. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.afpc.af.mil/About/Air-Force-Demographics/
  • Military Education. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from http://www.webster.edu/military/
  • Noe, R. A. (2017). Employee training and development (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Online Learning for Military Students. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from http://www.webster.edu/military/online.html
  • Rosine, M. (2009). Molding the Future: General Creates Vector to Develop Airmen of Today and Tomorrow. Airman, 53(1), 12–17. Retrieved from https://library3.webster.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mth&AN=45059749&site=ehost-live
  • The U.S. Air Force. (2006, January 18). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104613/the-us-air-force/
  • Why Choose Webster for Military Education? (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from http://www.webster.edu/military/why-webster/

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