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Innovate or wither on the vine

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Our Air Force is facing the most dramatic change we've experienced in 60 years. We have been at war for the past 15 years and are in the middle of the fight today in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. As the Air Force transforms, it is critical that we transform the way we prepare to meet the challenges ahead. Winston Churchill summed up a similar situation during the darkest period of World War II when he stated to Parliament, "Gentleman, we are out of money, therefore we will have to think."

To put things in perspective, it is important to understand the dire budgetary constraints we are operating under today. As a result of bills from the Global War on Terror, increasing maintenance costs on an aging fleet, our inability to divest aging aircraft, increasing fuel prices and increasing infrastructure costs, the Air Force is facing a $20 billion-per-year loss in buying power across the six-year Future Years Defense Plan.

Our Air Force leadership, has been open and honest about our current situation. Among the realities: resource constraints will continue to mount--it's getting worse, not better. Our equipment continues to age ... the average age of our aircraft is now 23 years. Our manpower costs are rising at a rate of six percent annually and Program Budget Decision 720 mandates major manpower reductions across the entire force.

All this led the director of the Air Force's Smart Operations to conclude, "Given the current ends and assuming limited means... the military must find new ways."

Accomplishing innovation and change that will yield increased combat capability in the face of such dire challenges will be demanding and will require leadership at all levels. I found the guidelines for leading change developed by Dr. Michael Hammer-a proponent of challenging managers to obliterate non-value adding work, rather than simply using technology for automating it-to be a good starting point. Hammer offers the following nuggets for leaders to use to unleash innovation and drive change:
* Communicate the nature and importance of the program
* Commit required resources
* Remove barriers and roadblocks
* Stay personally engaged
* Provide a vision
* Compel widespread participation and engagement
* Challenge the status quo
* Persevere in the face of problems

As leaders in an Air Force that must transform while it fights, it is imperative that we find more innovative ways to do what we do. This is absolutely essential to ensure we have the necessary resources to recapitalize and modernize our force and provide our people with the technology and tools to take the fight to the enemy.

Yogi Berra once said, "Predictions are hard, especially when they are about the future." While none of us can predict the future of the Air Force, I am a strong believer it will be very different than today. However, the key to success will remain our ability to keep our lead in technology and continue to develop first class people. Are you ready to step up to the challenge?