Air University after 70 years

Air University history timeline.

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

On March 12, 1946, Maj. Gen. Muir S. Fairchild, the newly selected commander of Air University, formally dedicated Air University at then Maxwell Field. Three years earlier, senior U.S. Army Air Forces leaders with victory in the current war in sight, conceived the idea for a postwar “university of the air” to educate officers for what they expected be an independent Air Force.  This education institution would build on the education and doctrine development missions of the former Air Corps Tactical School, operational at Maxwell Field from September 1931 until June 1942.

Unlike the founders of other military educational institutions, the founders of AU sought to break away from traditionalism, rigid thought and doctrine, and the formalization of instruction that had often characterized past military education.  They, many of whom were ACTS’ graduates, established a progressive, forward-looking institution.  In his dedication address, Fairchild stated, “We must guard rigorously against…. accepting answers from the past instead of digging them out of the future.  This is not a post-war school system—it is a pre-war school.”

In 1946, Air University consisted of the Air Force’s officer professional military education schools, Air Tactical School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College.  However, over the next seven decades, AU greatly increased to encompass the Air Force’s enlisted PME schools, its graduate school for advanced technical degrees (Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio), and three of the four Air Force officer accession programs.  In addition, many AU schools offer a vast array of professional continuing education workshops, symposia, formal courses and award accredited associate, masters, and doctoral degrees.  With an output of over 120,000 students annually, AU institutions and programs literally touch every military and civilian member of today’s Air Force.

Over the years, Air University has continually modified its courses and instructional methodologies as global and national security challenges have changed.  However, in the last five years, the U.S. and the world have seen even more dramatic change, which has produced a relative loss of America’s military advantage.  Today, the U.S. faces an array of peer states, rogue states, and non-state actors as adversaries that have produced new methods of attacking the American people and its global partners.  However, at the same time, budgetary pressures have limited the resources to develop responses to these new adversaries.

According to the current Air University commander, Lt. Gen. Steven L. Kwast, “We are living in a time when the world order is being tested.  All of the architectures that we were given after World War II have been studied by our adversaries….This is how it feels for warriors in any juncture of history that have to invent their way into a new paradigm that gives them an competitive advantage over their potential adversaries.”

In the last two years the Department of Defense developed a national security strategy that would utilize new and promising technology in collaboration with private industry to identify and invest in innovative ways to sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century.  Implicit in the development of new and innovative technology was the development of new approaches in training and education, especially through professional military and continuing education.  The focus is to utilize both traditional leadership development practices combined with emerging opportunities to transform how the U.S. military services develop managers and leaders.

As a result, three years ago, Air University embarked on a program to significantly transform its education programs to match changes in national security strategy in the face of these new types of adversaries and threats in a post-industrialized globalizing world and information revolution.  To provide more time to Airmen and lessen costs, Air University added a distance learning module, which Airmen completed prior to attending the in-residence portion, to many courses.  Air University established new institutions, such as a Cyber College to educate today’s Air Force cyber warriors and conduct research into the means to defeat increasing number of cyber-attacks, and the e-School of Graduate PME to provide consistency and educational expertise in the development of AU’s distant learning programs.  Air University is well into this transformation program, contributing in its own way to the U.S. national security and Air Education and Training Command’s mission to ‘recruit, train and educate Airmen to deliver airpower for America’.