Gen Mike Holmes, a core TRG team member, partnered with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) to take a detailed look at the challenges and questions facing the Air Force as the service prepares for the next National Defense Strategy. Excerpts from the article below. Full article available through CNAS here.

The Bottom Line:

  • The next National Defense Strategy should identify and describe a joint theory of victory vis-à-vis China and Russia.
  • This theory of victory should be the starting point for budget deliberations, instead of beginning by allocating shares of the budget to each service.
  • The size and shape of the Air Force and the allocation of resources among all the services should be driven by this theory of victory.
  • At present, the Air Force is both too small to meet current combatant command (COCOM) requirements and too large to remain ready and modernized under its current budget.


  • The DoD should update the National Defense Strategy to identify a shared theory of victory for competition with China and Russia. This theory of victory should be the starting point for budget deliberations. How will the United States compete with, deter, and, if necessary, defeat the objectives of China and Russia? What force elements are required? Which service should provide them? The Department should also provide force management guidance to balance short-term deployment availability with the training time needed to build forces with the long-term readiness and retention needed to execute the theory of victory.
  • The DoD should coordinate executable multi-year force structure modernization roadmaps with Congress to address community concerns and needs. Without a roadmap, each community views force structure retirement proposals as existential threats to its survival.
  • The DoD should prioritize force elements to support a review and update of service roles and missions. Critical questions needing answers should include:
    • How should the DoD prioritize and coordinate the development of new long-range fires and the ISR and C2 systems required to use them effectively?
    • How much nuclear modernization is necessary as part of 21st-century deterrence? How will the United States pay for it? Should the nuclear mission sets be more evenly distributed across the services?
    • What offensive and defensive counterair force elements are needed? Which services should provide the air- and surface-based systems required?
    • What force elements are not necessary to execute the theory of victory and should be traded to pay for the additional force elements that are needed?


The military services face daunting force structure challenges and decisions as the United States shifts focus from decades of war countering violent extremist organizations to competition with China and Russia. The Air Force is too small to meet COCOM requirements, yet too big to balance current ops, readiness, and modernization within its current budget. Air Force choices will affect the alternatives available to national security decisionmakers and warfighters for years to come. Successful resolution of these issues will require updated strategies and approaches to budget planning and execution.

Press Contact: Myrthe Doedens, Email: Ph: 772-708-4666 (c)