Cover: Force Presentation in U.S. Air Force History and Airpower Narratives

Force Presentation in U.S. Air Force History and Airpower Narratives

Published May 7, 2018

by Alan J. Vick


Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.9 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback78 pages $26.50

Research Questions

  1. What is the current USAF force presentation construct, and how did it evolve historically?
  2. What USAF force presentation constructs are most accessible to external audiences?
  3. How might force presentation be integrated into the USAF strategic narrative?

Every branch of the armed forces has at least one construct for force presentation, although only the U.S. Air Force (USAF) uses this particular terminology, and there is no authoritative definition of the concept in USAF or joint doctrine. Distilled to its essence, force presentation is the preferred organizational construct through which a service offers its capabilities to the combatant commander (CDDR). Force presentation constructs revolve around the core combat units of each service.

These constructs reflect, to varying degrees, each service's understanding of its unique contribution to national defense, its tactical doctrine, its historical experience, its readiness model, and the organizational metric that it believes makes the most compelling case for its total force structure. Force presentation constructs are increasingly salient to service leaders because they are often viewed as a way to constrain CCDR demands for rotational forces and personnel, thereby protecting service readiness and retention. USAF leaders, in particular, are concerned that their force presentation construct is lacking in this regard.

This report presents historical analysis and recommendations to inform USAF deliberations regarding future force presentation constructs.

Key Findings

Force presentation plays distinct and varied roles in the four services

  • Each of the services uses more than one construct to accomplish six key functions: (1) sizing forces, (2) deploying forces, (3) employing forces, (4) sustaining operational effects, (5) managing force rotations, and (6) articulating service purpose. Force presentation is arguably most central to the Marine Corps and Navy, but neither the Army nor the USAF uses it to articulate service purpose.

The squadron has been the most common USAF force presentation construct for the combat air forces

  • The squadron has been the preferred deployment construct for all major conflicts, and although it is central to USAF culture and possesses a familiarity to outside audiences, it is probably not the best vehicle for public outreach.

Force presentation has been largely ignored by airpower theorists and historians

  • Force presentation concepts are largely absent from USAF planning documents and the writings of prominent airpower theorists. Histories of the USAF at war also usually ignore organization; rather, they describe the air campaign objectives, planning process, and key participants; identify critical targets; and tell the story of air combat, typically centered around particular individuals and platforms.

USAF aircraft are the most visible and accessible manifestation of airpower

  • The modern USAF is an air, space, and cyber force, but news accounts of USAF activities typically focus on the deployment or movement of aircraft. Specialized audiences will care that the USAF presents specialized forces, but the broader public has little use for such hard-to-visualize abstractions.


  • Set realistic goals for any modifications to force presentation constructs.
  • Incorporate force presentation and basing into the USAF strategic narrative.
  • In public outreach, emphasize agility and scalability rather than organizational abstractions.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Air Force conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.