A day after celebrating the Air Force’s 75th anniversary, the Air and Space Forces Association (AFA) kicked off its 2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference. Held this year Sept. 19 to 21 in National Harbor, Maryland, the summit is the leading professional development and thought leadership event for Air Force and Space Force officers, enlisted members, civilians, veterans, and aerospace and defense industry leaders.
Last year, more than 12,500 people attended the annual conference, which featured 150-plus GovCon exhibitor booths covering more than 62,000 square feet. This year’s theme was “America’s Air & Space Forces – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (75 Years in the Defense of Our Nation).”
One of many notable announcements was that the Air Force will roll out the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber in December – more than seven years after the company won the contract for the aircraft. The first flight is expected in the middle of next year.
Wanted: IT-savvy service members
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass announced “The Joint Team,” also known as the Purple Book. It joins other color-coded books – “Brown Book,” or the Enlisted Force Structure, and “Blue Book,” or the service’s core values – “to educate Airmen about how Airpower fits into the joint-force environment,” according to the Air Force.
It speaks to the culture within the service, which Bass said is focused on updating professional military education in several ways. They include a new assignment-swap policy, refreshes of evaluation systems and changes to assignment priority codes for training instructors, leaders and recruiters.
One area of skills focus Bass noted is the information domain. “It is a battle space, and our adversaries are weaponizing information at speed, scale and scope,” she said, noting the need for digital literacy. “They are able to leverage social media, digital media and the information environment to direct the impact of people, readiness and the culture of our Air Force.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. also emphasized the need to reshape the service in response to modern-day threats.
“Our tactical skills are sharp, but we need to reframe our thinking to meet the challenges we will face in the future,” Brown said.
He pointed to lessons from the past to inform what’s to come, saying that success came “through experimentation, rapid prototyping, adapting new ideas and having a bias for action, risk-taking and creative disruption across all levels of Airmen.”
Brown called the approach “Integration by Design” and called on service members to “harness any innovation that can put meaningful capability in the hands of warfighters.”
Leaders of the Space Force, the newest military branch, are also looking at ways to stay ahead of competitors, namely Russia and China.
Lt. Gen. Nina M. Armagno, director of staff of the force, outlined a vision of “space superiority.” “What that really means is the ability to take a punch, and to continue to fight,” Armagno said. “The ability to take a hit in any one of our mission areas, absorb that hit and fight back, from the ultimate high ground.”
Leader calls for innovation, restructuring
In line with the call for innovation, the Air Force is asking industry for input on the electromagnetic spectrum, weapons and mobility aircraft with an eye toward using emerging technology to deal with threats.
“We have…initiated efforts to address the future of our electronic warfare suite of capabilities, our munitions and the future of our mobility and tanking capabilities — all in the context of a rapidly changing and competitive threat,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said.
Specifically, the service is looking to use electronic warfare to address peer threats and wants budget-conscious munitions after burning through bombs and missiles in the counterterrorism efforts of the past 20 years and in support of Ukraine in the war with Russia.
Kendall also announced that he is shoring up the Air Force’s command, control, communications and battle management modernization by putting it under a new program executive so that there is “a single technical authority that covers across our C3 battle management systems. Calling efforts to date inadequately focused and integrated, Kendall made a revamp of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) program one of his operational imperatives when he became secretary last year.
Assessing aircraft fleets
Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, head of the Air National Guard, said that the Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget calls for reducing to 80 from 144 the number of Boeing F-15EX aircraft it planned to buy.
“We need money, and we need recapitalization,” Loh said. “This platform has a lot of capability that we haven’t fully matured. So from a combatant commander’s capability perspective, we have not done a good job. That will be our challenge over the next couple years and will then drive different conversations.”
Meanwhile, Air Combat Command Chief Gen. Mark Kelley said that the combat air forces are short 12 squadrons of what he called multirole aircraft because they assist in homeland defense, overseas contingencies and crisis response. The service needs 60 fighter squadrons and has 48.
Additionally, eight squadrons should be transitioning to new aircrafts but only three are. “If there is an insufficient number in conversion, that either means your fighter force is getting smaller, getting older, becoming less capable, or all three,” Kelley said.
We always look forward to the annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference to learn more about the Air and Space Forces’ current initiatives and future goals. This year’s event was exciting, informative and inspiring – can’t wait for 2023!