SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The very foundation of the Air Force was built on innovation and technology, beginning with the first flight of the Wright Flyer four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
More than 115 years later, innovation and technology continue to play important roles in shaping the fight the service is able to take to the enemy, and it begins in classrooms, learning labs, pre-flight briefings and simulations at bases like Sheppard AFB and others in Air Education and Training Command.
Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew P. Donovan, the second highest ranking civilian in the Department of the Air Force, visited Sheppard on Feb. 14, 2019, to see how the Air Force’s largest and most diverse technical and undergraduate pilot training base is employing technology to train today’s Airmen for tomorrow.
When it comes to meeting those responsibilities, Sheppard is at the forefront of the effort by training the Airmen, officer and enlisted, who will be charged to get people and assets anywhere at any time.
“With the largest technical training wing in the Air Force, you train those that will build, move and fix our Air Force so we can fight,” he said. “These Airmen will be key to how we face future threats to our national security.”
Donovan said leveraging technology and innovation is important to the overall National Defense Strategy, which includes modernizing key capabilities, developing a talented workforce and evolving innovation operational concepts.
“Our National Defense Strategy tells us that we’ve got to restore the readiness, increase the lethality of our force. It has to start right here in the training,” he said. “I’m out here to take a look at the innovations that have been put into place by the AETC Commander (Lt. Gen. Steven) Kwast and his two Numbered Air Force commanders that are in charge of these wings.”
Kwast has challenged bases in his command to be “masters at this game of innovation” by employing two forms of innovation: One “that sustains what you are doing today and what is working,” and one “that changes you into something that can do the same thing in a different game, a different world, a different economic curve.”
Sheppard has been in the innovative weeds in that regard, employing technologies such as virtual, augmented and mixed realities to produce mission-ready Airmen.
During his visit to Sheppard, Donovan was able to see and experience how Airmen use HoloLens technology in aircraft maintenance and civil engineering courses, a virtual reality simulator to gauge electrical systems apprentice course students’ fear of heights before training, and mixed realty platforms at the 80th FTW’s Innovation Lab available for student pilots to hone skills in a virtual world.
Just as innovation is important to the future of the Air Force and the country’s military, so, too, is the relationships built with partner nations. That is also seen at Sheppard with the 82nd Training Wing’s International Military Student Organization and the 80th Flying Training Wing’s Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program.
“It actually plays a very, very large role,” he said of Sheppard’s role in the nation’s national defense. “In fact, our second Line of Effort that’s articulated in the National Defense Strategy is strengthening our alliances with our partners around the globe, so this is the absolute premier place that we do that for our NATO partners.”
According to the NDS, “By working together with allies and partners we amass the greatest possible strength for the long-term advancement of our interests, maintaining favorable balances of power that deter aggression and support the stability that generates economic growth. When we pool resources and share responsibility for our common defense, our security burden becomes lighter.”
Donovan, who began his Air Force career in 1977 when he enlisted and later commissioned in 1982, eventually becoming a command pilot with more than 2,900 flying hours in the F-15C Eagle and F-5E Tiger II, also touched on the pilot shortage in the Air Force, something he said is a cyclical event that is a result of the private sector. When the commercial airline industry expands and hires new pilots, it affects the bottom line of the Air Force.
But, the service has plans and programs in place to increase and retain its pilots.
“We’ve put into place some increased production. You’ll probably notice that here at Sheppard Air Force Base,” he said. “We’re also looking forward to a new T-X trainer, which will replace the T-38, and that will provide the larger production capability. We’re also looking at retention incentives to try to get the pilots we have trained to stay with the Air Force.”
Donovan is in charge of organizing, training, equipping and providing for the welfare of about 685,000 military and civilian Airmen. He is also the service’s chief information officer in charge of integrating data and developing information architecture across the Air Force.