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Combat Airmen: Examining USAF Expeditionary Skills Training
Air War College Maxwell AFB United States
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Recent conflicts have placed Airmen forward in combat, transiting and operating at higher risk than under previous Cold War models. Yet the Air Force has not sufficiently altered institutional behavior through resourcing and allocation of training time to provide Airmen with internalized combat skills or an expeditionary identity to mitigate associated increases in risk. Although Air Force pre-deployment training programs have evolved substantially throughout the past 15 years of war, all improvements were restricted by assumptions of a near-zero baseline of combat skills and training time limited by deployment sequences. These assumptions are valid in response to an imminent deployment but should not remain paramount to long-term decisions of force development. This paper explores the evolution and current state of Air Force Expeditionary Skills Training EST, discusses barriers to changing EST, reviews existing research on training methodologies and learning retention, analyzes the Air Force combat skillset using existing retention and delivery methodology models, and provides recommendations for a future force development construct based on tested learning principles. Research results show that only 5 percent of current Air Force expeditionary skills are suitable to Computer Based Training, the delivery method used for General Purpose Force recurrent EST. Results also indicate that Airmen are unlikely to reproduce 84 percent of skills under combat conditions, even with current hands-on Advanced Deployment Readiness training. The United States Air Force needs to augment its current cognitive Expeditionary Skills Training program with semiannual hands-on training to provide Airmen with the psychomotor skills and affective internalized combat culture to mitigate the risks associated with recent and future combat environments.
APPROVED FOR PUBLIC RELEASE