🔷 Air Force 2050

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Air Force 2050

Congress is directing the Air Force to define what their future force will look like in 2050.

While it’s cool to think about future tech, this has nothing to do with sharks with frickin lasers.

The problem Congress is trying to shed light on: the flying branch is the oldest, smallest, and least ready it has been in its history; adversaries have closed the gap on many of the technological advantages the Air Force once enjoyed—and no one seems to have a long-term plan to address this.

What Happened?

We could do an entire podcast on how the Air Force got into this position (note to self: do a podcast on this), but here’s the tweet (X?) summary: The atrophy started when the Cold War ended, and got even worse during the ground-centric Afghanistan/Iraq era, thanks to a series of decisions and questionable bets like “divest to invest.”

The saga’s latest chapter occurred about 8 years ago. Like the currently directed 2050 force design study, in 2017 Congress asked the Air Force for a requirements-focused, budget-agnostic force design for 2030. This led to the 2018 unveiling of “The Air Force We Need,” which showed that the service needed to grow by 24 percent.

The result: nothing. No changes were made in 2018 or 2019, and by 2020 the narrative devolved into “the Air Force we can afford.” By 2022, the initiative was dead.

This Time

Two fatal flaws of the defunct “Air Force We Need” was that 1) it was a capacity drill, not a plan; and 2) the timeline was too tight to reasonably execute.

The 2050 timeline addresses some of that, but if anyone has a crystal ball to predict what 2050 will look like—please let the Air Force borrow it.

OBTW: the current Air Force leadership seems to be heavily leaning to one side of the capability vs. capacity conundrum.

What Now

On one hand, maybe this will lead to a visionary declaration akin to the Navy, which is now planning for at least 60% of its future carrier air wing to be uncrewed.

On the other hand, a report is just a report, and reports tend to be more useful for scoring near-term political points than long-term impacts.

Even if the report led to a strategy to build this 2050 force, the elephant is still in the room: the $$$$ to make it happen.

Parting shot: Strategy without resources is simply a hallucination.”
— Mike B

In That Number


The Navy is still falling short of its readiness goal of 75 combat-credible surface ships at any given time. The current number is reportedly in the mid-50s, which ain’t good when you consider the ~164 surface ships they are counting.


The German siege of the Russian city, now known as Volgograd in 1942-1943, is widely considered the deadliest battle of World War II. What other name did Volgograd have at the time, by which the battle is typically known?

On the Radar

The Pentagon released the first-ever National Defense Industrial Strategy. The 60-page document describes a need to (re)build a diverse, dynamic, and resilient industrial ecosystem that once was. It outlines four pillars: 1) Resilient Supply Chains, 2) Workforce Readiness, 3) Flexible Acquisition, and 4) Economic Deterrence.

  • The Merge’s Take: The actual plan will be released in the coming weeks (one classified, one unclassified), and we’ll be doing a podcast episode on this once the details become public. We usually throw salt and wit, but we’re also not afraid to dish out compliments when warranted, so here it is: The strategy does 2 things that most “strategies” don’t: 1) It explicitly lays out the top 10 things the Pentagon has been doing wrong, and 2) it lists action items to address those specific pain points. Shout out to the authors for getting the critical sections through the review process.


The Air Force is using XR to train maintainers and operators on the service’s E-4B fleet, a flying command post to control forces in the case of a national emergency. The fleet has only 4 aircraft, with one always on alert, so XR is being used to solve the problem of jet availability.

  • The Merge’s Take: Shameless plug alert…we covered XR for aircraft training in a podcast a few months ago (episode 17), check it out!


Ukraine’s industry is now producing more drones than the nation can afford to buy. There are now a whopping 200+ drone builders—just inside Ukraine.

  • The Merge’s Take: This sounds like a good problem to have, and in some ways, it is. That said, because the budget available is spread around to cover all the builders, Ukraine can’t reap the cost benefits of mass production. The root cause it preferring tactics over strategy, but expect to this change with a wave of partnerships, teaming, and consolidation in the coming months. Why: The Ukrainian government plans to buy 1 million drones in 2024.

  • The Merge’s Spicy Take: Even Ukraine only hits 10% of that goal—it’s still way more than the US military is buying (and more than the US industry can build). Where are all the US-Ukraine business partnerships, and why are there not more “build in Ukraine, made for China” drones?

They Said It
“A bigger picture way to say this is that we used to think about [was] either you have precision or you have mass. That’s no longer the case. What we need in many instances is going to be precise mass. And that’s where the notion of attritable autonomy comes in.”

Michael Horowitz, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development and emerging capabilities

Knowledge Bombs

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Stalingrad. The scale of loss during this city battle is hard to comprehend—over 2 million casualties, with  3,000 aircraft and 4,500 tanks destroyed.