Alternate Futures for 2025:
Security Planning to Avoid Surprise

A Research Paper
Presented To

Air Force 2025


Col Joseph A. Engelbrecht, Jr., Ph.D.
Lt Col Robert L. Bivins
Maj Patrick M. Condray
Maj Merrily D. Fecteau
Maj John P. Geis II
Maj Kevin C. Smith

April 1996


2025 is a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future. Presented on 17 June 1996, this report was produced in the Department of Defense school environment of academic freedom and in the interest of advancing concepts related to national defense. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government.

This report contains fictional representations of future situations/scenarios. Any similarities to real people or events, other than those specifically cited, are unintentional and are for purposes of illustration only.

Mention of various programs or technologies throughout this paper does not imply Air Force or DOD endorsement of either the mission, the program, or adoption of the technology.

This publication has been reviewed by security and policy review authorities, is unclassified, and is cleared for public release.



  1. Introduction
  2. Methodology
  3. Gulliver's Travails
  4. Zaibatsu
  5. Digital Cacophony
  6. King Khan
  7. Halfs and Half-Naughts
  8. 2015 Crossroads
  9. Conclusions and Recommendations


    Air Force Long-Range Planning


    Matrix of Additional Characteristics

    Systems, Concepts, and Technologies



ES-1. Strategic Planning Space
1-1. Traditional Long-range Planning Space
2-1. 2025 Alternate Futures Strategic Planning Space
2-2. Strategic Planning Space with Named Worlds at Extremes
3-1. Strategic Planning Space for Gulliver's Travails
3-2. Plausible History for Gulliver's Travails
3-3. Map of Turko-Kurdish Conflict Region
3-4. DOD Budget (Constant FY95 $B) in Gulliver's Travails
4-1. Strategic Planning Space for Zaibatsu
4-2. Trend in International Trade
4-3. Plausible History for Zaibatsu
4-4. Map of Angola-Zaire Conflict Region
4-5. DOD Budget (Constant FY95 $B) in Zaibatsu
5-1. Strategic Planning Space for Digital Cacophony
5-2. Plausible History for Digital Cacophony
5-3. DOD Budget (Constant FY95 $B) for Digital Cacophony
6-1. Strategic Planning Space for King Khan
6-2. Plausible History for King Khan
6-3. DOD Budget (Constant FY95 $B) for King Khan
7-1. Strategic Planning Space for Halfs and Half-Naughts
7-2. Plausible History for Halfs and Half-Naughts
7-3. DOD Budget (Constant FY95 $B) for Halfs and Half-Naughts
8-1. Strategic Planning Space for 2015 Crossroads
8-2. Plausible History for 2015 Crossroads
8-3. DOD Budget (Constant FY95 $B) for 2015 Crossroads
A-1. Centralized, High-Correspondence Alternative
A-2. Generic Decentralized Model
A-3. AU Hub Model
A-4. Criteria for Selecting a Model and Its Features
A-5. Characteristics
A-6. Current Long-Range Planning Results
A-7. Alternate Futures Strategic Planning Space
A-8. Spectrum of Conflict
A-9. Alternate Futures and Spectrum of Conflict
B-1. Approximate Rate at which Speed of CPU Increases
B-2. Civilian Satellite Ground Resolution
B-3. Independent States, 1945-2025
B-4. Global Warming Trends (1880-2050)
B-5. Population Growth over Time



1 Original 2025 Alternate Futures
2 Population (Millions) for World Regions
3 1994 Population Figures and 2025 Projections
4 2025 GDP in Billions at Various Growth Rates (FY94 Dollars)
5 Per Capita GDP in Billions (FY94 Dollars)
6 General Military Forces
7 Space Power
8 Air Power
9 Land Power
10 Sea Power


Many people helped make this project possible. Most importantly, our thanks go to the 2025 study chairman, Lt Gen Jay W. Kelley, who provided great leadership and many helpful comments throughout the Alternate Futures development. Also providing great leadership and countless hours of work to improve our product was the study director, Col Richard Szafranski. Dr. Judith Gentleman and Dr. George Stein, Air War College faculty, contributed important insights during a critical phase of the Alternate Futures evolution. We also thank all the original members of the Alternate Futures team, who made lasting contributions with their early hard work and insight. These individuals are Ms. Marlene L. Barger, Maj Douglas S. Black, Col Vic Budura, Maj Nolen R. Chew, Maj (Select) Jeffrey Clossen, Maj Christopher A. Cook, Maj Bruce DeBlois, Maj Laura A. H. DiSilverio, LCDR Mark J. Hellstern, Maj Bruce M. Juselis, Col (Select) Rick W. Lester, Maj Kenneth R. Tingman, Maj Michael F. Wagner, Maj Yulin G. Whitehead, Maj Charles W. Williamson III, and Maj Felix A. Zambetti III. We also thank Col Michael Kozak and the 2025 support staff. They were always willing to help. Last to be mentioned, but first in our hearts, we thank our families, whose love and support in this project, like all the others, never gets rewarded to the degree it should.

Executive Summary

The importance of long-range planning has never been greater due to the dwindling resources dedicated to defense, debates over roles and missions, and the changing security environment. In response to this need, the Air Force embarked on a wide-ranging effort to improve long-range planning. The Air University-hosted project, Air Force 2025 (or simply 2025 to signify the joint nature of air and space power), looks 30 years into the future and identifies the systems, concepts of operation, and technologies required to ensure the US possesses the dominant air and space forces in the future.

In order to envision the world of 2025, the study had to make predictions. Futurists use several methods to "forecast" the future. The approach used for the 2025 study creates alternate futures by examining trends, studying the work of respected futurists, considering surprises and "wild cards," and conducting analyses to identify the factors, or "drivers," that will be major contributors to change.

To be effective for planning, these drivers must encapsulate the major forces likely to shape the world of 2025 and be relevant to the organization. After extensive analysis, the Alternate Futures team identified American World View, DTeK, and World Power Grid as the most important drivers affecting the future and relevant to air and space power. American World View is the US perspective of the world and describes American willingness and capability to interact with the rest of the world. DTeK is the differential in the rate of growth and proliferation of technology. World Power Grid describes the generation, transmission, distribution, and control of economic, political, and military power throughout the world. Each driver exhibits two extremes. American World View varies between "Domestic" or "Global," DTeK ranges from "Constrained" to "Exponentialn," and World Power Grid ranges from "Concentrated" to "Dispersed."

Using the interaction of these drivers, the Alternate Futures team created different visions of the future and defined a strategic planning space (fig. ES-1). This planning space contains an infinite number of worlds. Selecting the worlds at the extremes of the drivers-the corners of the planning space-encompasses characteristics of all the worlds inside the space.

Figure ES-1. Strategic Planning Space

The Alternate Futures team then enriched the worlds by "backcasting" from 2025 to 1996 to build plausible histories. After finishing the plausible histories, the team added to the richness of each world and increased their robustness by deriving the nature of various features such as international politics, actors, environment, and technology.

From the eight worlds at the corners of the strategic planning space, the team selected the four futures most likely to be of interest to the primary customers of the 2025 study, the chief of staff of the Air Force (CSAF) and other senior decision makers. Gulliver's Travails, Zaibatsu, Digital Cacophony, and King Khan provide challenging operating conditions for the US military and specifically for air and space forces.

In Gulliver's Travails, the US is overwhelmed and preoccupied with worldwide commitments such as counterterrorism and counterproliferation efforts, humanitarian or environmental assistance, and peacekeeping operations. This world forces the US military to devise systems and concepts of operation for meeting expanding requirements while maintaining a high operations tempo during a period of constrained budgets.

In Zaibatsu, multinational corporations dominate international affairs and loosely cooperate to create a superficially benign world. The main challenge for the US military in this world, which is becoming unstable due to rising income disparities, is to maintain relevance and competence in a relatively peaceful world.

Digital Cacophony is the most technologically advanced world, resulting in great power for the individual but also creating widespread fear and anxiety. The rapid proliferation of high technology and weapons of mass destruction provides individual independence but leads to social isolation. In this world, the US military must cope with a multitude of high technology threats, especially in cyberspace.

King Khan contains a strategic surprise, the creation of and dominance by an Asian colossus formed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. King Khan is also a world where US dominance has waned due to domestic problems, including an economic depression. The main challenge in this world is to determine which core competencies to retain during a rapid decrease in the defense budget followed by the challenge of deciding which capabilities to reconstitute, once defense budgets begin to rise.

The Alternate Futures team briefed these four worlds to the Air Force major command vice commanders in early January 1996. At their request, the Alternate Futures team created a fifth world using aspects common to all four alternate futures, to serve as a baseline for analysis. This fifth world, called Halfs and Half-Naughts, is a world of changing social structure and security conditions. The main challenge to the military is to prepare for a multitude of threats in a world dominated by conflict between haves and have-nots.

Finally, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force requested a sixth world, to provide a "bridge" between today and 2025. This world, placed in 2015, uses programmed forces from 1996-2001 to fight a major conflict. The world is named 2015 Crossroads because it presents the US with a strategic challenge in 2015 which could lead to several different worlds by 2025.

These six alternate futures form the foundation of the 2025 study by providing the fulcrum against which analysts applied operational analysis techniques. The purpose of the operational analyses was to determine which of the many ideas generated by the study participants merit further attention and possible development. The alternate futures provided the operating environment in which the various proposed systems, concepts, and technologies were evaluated. Another purpose of the alternate futures was to enhance creativity. In envisioning a particular world of 2025, study participants were sometimes faced with new challenges for military forces. These challenges fostered "over the horizon" thinking to develop new solutions. The Alternate Futures approach combined with the 2025 study effort seeks to ensure that the US will maintain air and space dominance in the future, regardless of what vision of the future becomes reality.

Contact: Air Force 2025
Last updated: 1996 September 16

Back to 2025 Home Page
Forward to Chapter 1