This year’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference explored the theme of “Defeating Multipolar Threats: A Strategic Imperative for Airmen & Guardians.” The professional development event, hosted by the Air and Space Forces Association, aimed to hold onto the momentum of last year when almost 17,000 people registered to attend – the most in more than 40 years.
The conference provides information sessions, panel discussions and more on emerging requirements and technologies that advance air and space efforts. More than 230 booths dotted the technology exhibit hall this year. One was home to representatives from Spark Cells, a decentralized network of airmen, guardian and government civilians at Air Force bases worldwide who carry out innovative ideas. The aisle of four booth spaces was called “Spark Street,” and hundreds of attendees learned about ideas and projects that have improved and strengthened the Department of the Air Force.
Making Moves on Modernization
In a keynote address on the 22nd anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall emphasized the need for modernized forces, especially to defend against threats from China. “We must be ready for a kind of war we have no modern experience with,” Kendall said.
He warned that China has established two new military services: a Rocket Force designed “to attack America’s high-value assets, aircraft carriers, forward airfields and key C2 and logistics nodes”; and
Strategic Support Forces, focused on “information dominance in the space and cyber domains.”
Kendall called on Congress to pass a full-year budget and avoid a government shutdown, which could impede the military’s capabilities. “We have already lost far too much time waiting for Congress to act on our modernization funding needs,” he said.
Two of the major needs he outlined were the authority for the Department of the Air Force to start modernization efforts and funding for them. Among modernization programs that the department has in the queue are Collaborative Combat Aircraft, Next Generation Air Dominance and the LGM-35 Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile.
He also reiterated his top legislative proposal for Congress, which is granting the Air Force and other military services authorities to start work critical programs without a budget. “This initiative will prevent us from losing ground unnecessarily in the military technological race with China,” he said.
Space Force Asks for GovCon Help
Space Force officials called for commercial partners to support their need for space-based capabilities.
“We have a commercial integration cell with 10 commercial partners who have the clearance and ability to sit on the operations floor,” said U.S. Space Force Maj. Gen. Douglas Schiess, Combined Force Space
Component Command commander and Space Operations Command vice commander. “We have to continue to build and maintain great relationships with the commercial sector and work through how we can pivot quickly and provide commercial augmentation of resources for warfighters.”
The United States is not guaranteed to be the leader in space defense without help, he added. A limited workforce and capacity are hindrances. “We must be intel-focused, cyber-secure, combat-credible and deliberate about cultivating partnerships,” Schiess said.
Tech of the Future
The Air Force is looking to pair pilots with unmanned collaborative combat aircraft (CCAs) as a force multiplier because those planes could help with reconnaissance and intel gathering, signal jamming, striking targets, and serving as missiles.
State-of-the-art technology is also critical to eliminating the threat from China, said Gen. Duke Z. Richardson, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) commander. He pointed to the B-21 Raider, a “dual-capable penetrating strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions,” according to the service, as an example of the need of commandwide, integrated work.
“The Air Force relies on creative AFMC airmen to deliver capabilities faster by leveraging every available tool,” Richardson said. “We’re focused on enterprise solutions, digital materiel management, and collaboration with our warfighters across every [major command] for every weapon system. The B-21 program exemplifies our commitment to delivering integrated capabilities, covering all aspects of the life cycle, from research and development, through acquisition and testing, to long-term sustainment and support.”
Appealing directly to the Air Force workforce, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass spotlighted their accomplishments, including completing almost 800,000 aircraft sorties. But the momentum can’t show, she added.
“The future force requires airmen at all levels to look at the Air Force we have today and ask ourselves, ‘While [our Air Force] got us here, will it get us there?’” Bass said.
One tool that can help is artificial intelligence, and she encouraged Air Force members to learn about its capabilities. “Our adversaries understand the power of information – they seek to exploit it, weaponize it and use it against us,” she added.
We bet AI will get plenty more attention at next year’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, scheduled for Sept. 16-18, 2024.