Transforming Technicians into Tacticians

Lt. Col. Casey Beard, 1st Space Operations Squadron commander. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. Casey Beard, 1st Space Operations Squadron commander. (Courtesy photo)


As I enter my final three months as commander of the 1st Space Operations Squadron, several important topics and lessons come to mind that are worthy of sharing with my teammates at the 50th Space Wing.

Other squadron commanders have provided excellent perspectives on leadership, so I decided to share my philosophy on one theme that will continue to shape our operational community: the requirement to instill a warfighting culture in Air Force Space Command. Airmen from 1 SOPS will recognize this philosophy as the concept behind the squadron’s Advanced Training program under Space Mission Force.  (Note: this article is geared more toward the operational community, but gives all members of the wing a glimpse into the significance of what is taking place.)

My intent is to provide a framework that describes how tactical units within AFSPC can generate a cadre of tacticians capable of succeeding in a contested, degraded, and operationally limited environment.  The approach involves three interdependent areas: space operators must 1) conceptualize their job in an entirely different manner 2) maintain a relevant combination of technical expertise and situational awareness of the operational environment and 3) become familiar with historical and contemporary viewpoints of war and warfare.  In essence, the framework suggests how we can “make” warfighters in mission areas traditionally focused on providing services that enable warfighting in other domains.


Before briefly stepping through the framework, two definitions are necessary.  As this article’s title suggests, the transformation involves turning technicians into tacticians.  For the sake of discussion, a technician represents the traditional role held by all space operators; an individual qualified to operate a system who is task- or procedure-oriented.  A tactician, on the other hand, is an individual who is more concerned with context and interrelationships (system capabilities, the environment, mission objectives, nature of resistance, etc.) in order to gain a relative advantage over an adversary. In short, a tactician is an executor of warfare, while a technician interacts with equipment.  Both functions are critical, but the technician is not equipped for conflict.


The first and most fundamental aspect of transforming technicians into tacticians is to change the way they perceive their job or role.  For military space operators, this means shifting their focus from maintaining system health and status to assuring mission accomplishment throughout the spectrum of conflict.  Before he was elected president, Ronald Reagan voiced his simple strategy on how the United States should address communism and the Soviet Union, and it epitomizes the mindset implied here: “We win, and they lose.”  Put another way, military space operators must first and always embrace the core motivation that we will not be defeated. 


This central premise runs counter to the prevailing paradigm that considers space operators as service providers maintaining systems in a permissive environment.  Rather, a tactician’s mindset stems from a different worldview - one that understands defeat is possible (and the operating environment is not permissive), mission failure could have significant implications across the joint force (indeed, space capabilities are a component of the joint force).  Adopting this new paradigm changes how information is processed, redefining which details are considered important, problematic, acceptable or full of risk.


 From a warfighting perspective, this paradigm shift provides the context tacticians seek within the dynamics of conflict—in order to gain the advantage. 


Tacticians must have in-depth and relevant knowledge of technical details, system relationships and threats and environmental influences.  These include one’s own weapon system capabilities, limitations and susceptibilities; adversary system capabilities, limitations and susceptibilities; and the operational conditions under which they both operate.  A tactician - driven by the mindset described above - then strives to defend or exploit friendly or adversary vulnerabilities (system susceptibilities that can be affected by another’s capabilities). 


As former fighter pilot and Air Force historian C.R. Anderegg explained, “The primary consideration for any tactician is the threat.  What are the enemy’s capabilities?”  Perhaps more importantly, a tactician needs to recognize and understand operational conditions and how they shape one’s ability to decide and act.  Collectively, factors such as assigned missions, objectives, rules of engagement, acceptable levels of risk, decision authorities, doctrine and disposition of forces (known as blue and red order of battle) create operational conditions that influence and give impetus to warfighting.  A technician may be cognizant of some of these factors, but a tactician demands awareness of all.


Finally, tacticians should be exposed to other viewpoints on war and warfare.  Historical and contemporary theories and accounts of war offer enduring lessons, new perspectives, and important planning considerations for tacticians to scrutinize and apply where needed.  Tacticians such as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Jomini, Moltke (the Elder), Liddell Hart, J.F.C. Fuller, Slessor, Schelling, Brodie, and Boyd have dissected war in its many forms to identify relationships and pitfalls associated with offense, defense, maneuver, military genius, decision-making and action, tactical and strategic advantage, deterrence, coercion, etc - all areas of critical importance to a warfighter.  Ultimately, familiarity with and internalization of other examples of warfare cultivates a warfighting perspective and hones the mind - the most powerful weapon any tactician can yield.


Transforming technicians into tacticians is not an easy task.  However, it is an essential component of the cultural shift necessary to assure access to space in a CDO environment.  The transition starts with adopting a new way of thinking about space operation - we will not be defeated - which generates an entirely new imperative for understanding system capabilities and the operational conditions that influence mission accomplishment.  A tactician remains current and effective by expanding his or her perspective of warfare through analyzing viewpoints of other warfighters.  These three overarching aspects are normally considered above and beyond for a technician, but represent core competencies of all tacticians.


I am truly honored to serve with each and every one of you, and have full confidence that the 50 SW will continue leading AFSPC in this monumental effort!