2021 AFA Air Space Cyber Conference Debrief

“We have the vector, now is the time to add thrust.” In this episode, I share my thoughts on the 2021 AFA Air Space and Cyber Conference held at National Harbor, Maryland. I was fortunate enough to attend and hear insights from our senior leadership, meet up with new and old teammates, and get “re-blued” as an Airman. 

My Takeaways

  • Radical change to our funding is needed to get the Air Force we need, and many signs were pointing to retiring legacy aircraft/programs, a politically sensitive subject…but the lethality of our Air Force will continue to lag if not addressed
  • We have the Airmen, we need to equip them right
  • Empowered execution. Senior leadership wants to see it, so how do we show it to them?
  • Diversity and Inclusivity are here to stay. This is an opportunity we need to take advantage of to make our Air Force better
  • Partnering with industry and the int’l community remains critical
  • We need to challenge ourselves and become multi-capable Airmen that produces effects for the warfighter
  • We have the vector, now is the time to add thrust.

My Notes

State of the force – The Honorable Frank Kendall, 26th Secretary of the Air Force

  • “One Team, One Fight”
    • Our one team can’t execute one fight if we retain legacy systems/bases. Tough choices must be made to accelerate change 
  • Biggest threat = China
    • Built a Force to deny US power (A2AD)
    • No longer a deterrence Force, but a first strike capability and nuclear
    • “While we are the most dominant military force on the planet, that dynamic changes as we approach the shores of China.”
  • We embrace innovation, but lack the how (must work with industry)

Accelerate change to empower our Airmen – Gen Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force

  • “I don’t believe in the impossible.”
    • Good (do things faster/cheaper) and bad (AF will always have the advantage)
  • “Embers can’t spark the fire of culture change.”
  • “Strategic competition is leveraging advantages over time.”
  • Leaders can’t wait for perfect conditions (money, manpower, time)
  • Give leaders freedom and authority 
  • Intent ➡️ Authority ➡️ Decide
    • Underpinned by empowerment and trust 
  • “To fly, fight, and win…airpower anytime, anywhere”
  • Air Force Doctrine Publication 1 weighs heavily on Mission command: centralized command, distributed control, decentralized execution
  • Bar napkins = good ideas written down
  • We must work better with industry. If not, we will be unable to compete/deter 
  • “We have the vector, time to add thrust”

Agile Combat Employment (ACE) 

  • Gen Jeffrey L. Harrigian, Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe; Commander, U.S. Air Forces Africa; Commander, Allied Air Command
  • Gen Kenneth S. Wilsbach, Commander, Pacific Air Forces; Air Component Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; and Executive Director, Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff
  • Lt Gen James C. “Jim” Slife, Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command
  • ACE starts with people 
    • If you empower people, they will get after it
  • How do we train multi-domain airmen from day one?
    • What if we don’t have AFSCs?
  • “The days of single AFSC Airmen are over. We need to cross train and challenge ourselves.”
  • Logistics remains a challenge in both theaters 
  • Mobile SCIF – how does DODIN understand and C2 this?
  • “Meshed/self-healing network is critical”
  • “We don’t have the right equipment to give airmen to be agile.”
  • International partnerships must be baked in
  • “Airmen want to do things that matter.”

2022 National Defense Strategy and Future Force Structure

  • Lt Gen Joseph T. Guastella Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force
  • Dr. Mara E. Karlin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities
  • Col Mark Gunzinger, USAF (Ret.), Director of Future Concepts and Capability Assessments, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies
  • Mitchell Institute Recommendation – Selectively shape the services to be able to engage in two wars simultaneously (China and Russia)
    • Two is needed. If not, one adversary can take advantage while we are engaged in another theater and defending the homeland
    • China will not be a “boots on the ground” type of conflict
    • Selectively shape the Navy and Marines for the Pacific, and shape the Army for Europe. Shape the Air and Space Force for both because we will be needed in both theaters
  • Integrated Deterrence = Whole of Gov’t approach
  • We must create advantages for ourselves and dilemmas for our adversaries simultaneously
  • We must be able to generate airpower under duress; “The F-22 is phenomenal in the air, but is vulnerable on the ground.”
  • The resources we need: airfield for joint airpower, defense of critical infrastructure, and the ability to retire legacy aircraft so we can build the Air Force we need

Leading from the Front: Command Chief Perspectives

  • CMSgt Amber Mitchell, USSF/S1 SEL
  • CMSgt Daniel Simpson, DSCA/SEL
  • CMSgt Timothy White, AFRC/CCC
  • CMSgt Dave Wolfe, PACAF/CCC
  • Largest issue for the enlisted force
    • Talent management and diversity of thought
    • Air Force we need vs we can afford (still investing in legacy programs)
  • How can Airmen prepare for the joint/international war?
    • Master your craft and have a warfighter mindset
    • How can you do more (multi-capable Airman)
    • Understand your value and the effects you bring to the fight
    • Be curious and learn from your teammates
  • How can E-1 to E-4s contribute to the warfighter?
    • Focus on trust, work to break down bureaucracy 

It’s All About People – Join Us!

  • Gina Ortiz Jones, Under Secretary of the Air Force
  • Gen Edward A. Rice Jr, USAF, (Ret.)
  • Lt Gen Brian T. Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services
  • Patricia Mulcahy, Chief Human Capital Officer, U.S. Space Force
  • How can we attract the youth of the nation to gain interest in our military?
    • We need talent as diverse as the challenges we face as a nation.
    • Think differently about how our policies affect the value of one’s service
  • How do you feel the pace of progress has been made on diversity efforts?
    • We have not done a good job asking and listening. We can’t solve a problem we don’t understand.
    • Diversity requires persistence. We need to do better assessments of our efforts and follow through as needed.
  • How can we recruit better STEM-focused talent?
    • Focus recruiting efforts and aerodynamic-focused universities to get the right talent (not limited to officers)
  • Is the Air Force lower standards and/or pandering to popular opinion?
    • High standards won’t change
    • Recruit the best no matter where they are means we need to look in more places
    • Less inclusive = less strength
  • Racial Disparity Review – Not moving quick enough
    • We like fast answers, but we also need to determine root causes and address them for enduring solutions. This will take time to develop, but we are pointing in the right direction (we can’t rebalance the force over night)
    • Complicated (tech) vs Complex (people) problem

Information Warfare: A Strategy for the Competition Continuum

  • Lt Gen Timothy D. Haugh, Commander, Sixteenth Air Force; Commander, Air Forces Cyber, and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber
  • Lt Gen Mary F. O’Brien, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Cyber Effects Operations
  • Lauren Barrett Knausenberger, Chief Information Officer for the Department of the Air Force
  • Integrating cyber and ISR capabilities to engage in Information Warfare
  • Cyber effects all domains and supports the core of the Air Force mission
  • To Compete and Deter our adversaries means to defend weapon systems and feeding data in big data platforms that can leverage automation to do slow things faster (automation) or reveal patterns we need to get after (both offensive and defensive)
  • We need to advance at scale, and that is dependent on consistent architecture and standardize platforms
  • Where are we making data assumptions?
  • Five key components to IW strategy
    • Maximize data sharing
    • Publish data assets in a federal catalog (menu of what this capability does and what it produces)
    • Automated data interfaces for access
    • Store data agnostically (data-centric vs tool-centric)
    • Implement industry best practices
  • We have the Airmen we need, but we need to get them the tools/authority/capability they need to win the fight.
    • Connect an Airman-discovered/defined problem with the right tool to solve it
  • Are we using AI right?
    • We have to get IT fundamentals right before we can leverage AI right

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