SecAF: From legacy of past to uncertain future, bold leadership key

  • Published
  • By Rich Lamance
  • Air Force News Service
From Gen. Eisenhower’s bold belief of a separate service to early bold leaders like Mitchell, Doolittle and Arnold, the Air Force’s top leader told an audience of Airmen, senior leaders and association members that bold leadership is also the key to the future.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James gave her vision of bold leadership during the 2014 Air Force Association’s Air and Space conference and technology exposition here Sept. 15. She said the future of the Air Force is influenced by uncertainty of the world scene and the Air Force needs to have the flexibility to react to this dynamic environment. “We have an uncertain and constantly changing landscape…politically, militarily and technologically as well,” said James.

“A few months ago, no one would have predicted so many different challenges, in so many different areas could be taking place, and all at the same time. We’ve seen turmoil between Ukraine and Russia, we’ve seen al-Shabab fighters in Somalia, we’ve seen Chinese incursions growing and the rise of the absolute barbaric group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. We’ve seen worldwide cyber threats and space is becoming more contested and congested.”

As the Air Force approaches its 67th birthday, with a long line of bold leadership, James said that the challenges facing the service during the next 30 years will look nothing like the past 67. “Our Air Force will be smaller. Our Air Force is already smaller. Tomorrow, we will rely more on our National Guard and Reserve than we do today. Tomorrow, we need to maintain that technological edge.. Perhaps most importantly, tomorrow we must be able to adapt faster in many, many different ways than our adversaries in all that we do.”

James stressed the need to be strategically agile, not only in how we recruit and develop our people, but also in how we acquire new weaponry and leverage new technology such as hypersonics and directed energy.

“Strategic agility should allow us to rapidly adjust to evolving threat environments faster than our adversaries,” said James. “Just like General Eisenhower, Jimmy Doolittle and others, we recognize that bold leadership, along with persistent focus and execution over time, will turn this vision into a reality.”

James also talked about the current threats in Iraq and Syria and how the Air Force fits into the president’s four-part strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

“First, systematic airstrikes will help roll back ISIL advances on the ground and create space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to go on the offense,” James said. She explained since this operation began, Airmen have conducted the lion’s share of airstrikes over northern Iraq working with Navy counterparts.

“Second, the president intends to increase our support for forces fighting on the ground, ” James continued. She said that the Air Force has already used remotely piloted aircraft and executed pinpoint strikes on ISIL targets and that the extensive ISR network, including space and cyber assets are helping to build situational awareness.

James told the audience that the president will also draw on the Air Force’s substantial counterterrorism capability, with Air Force intelligence specialists interfacing with their sister service counterparts to halt ISIL activities. She also made it clear that the Air Force will continue its humanitarian missions, adding to the C-130 and C-17 airdrops of thousands of gallons of water and tons of food, as well as the evacuation of more than 20,000 Yezedis stranded on Mount Sinjar.

Looking ahead to key areas in the Air Force’s future, James said that without question, the nuclear mission is key. “Over the next several years, we will redirect over $500 million for nuclear facilities sustainment, bomber and ICBM operations support, launch control center refurbishment, updated nuclear defender equipment and uniforms and other force improvement initiatives.” She added that the Air Force plans to add money to ROTC missile scholarships, with 10 awarded to upcoming senior graduating in 2015, as well as 30 more anticipated for fiscal year 2015.

James also announced a $300 per month incentive pay for officers performing the nuclear mission, as well as up to $300 a month in special duty assignment pay for certain enlisted career fields throughout the nuclear enterprise.

In the arena of space, James said the Air Force can no longer assume that our adversaries will no longer interfere with our deployed systems and, with barriers being reduced and technology improving, there will be a steady stream of new entrants and emerging threats.

“We are evaluating warfighting concepts for mission assurance – things like resilience, defense, rapid reconstitution and we need to factor in deterrence. It’s a model that has worked. Improving our space situational awareness will help remove the veil of anonymity from bad actors.”

James also talked about the challenges of cyberspace, with attacks and incursions against networks a daily occurrence. “We must invest in securing our systems from cyberspace attacks in order to enable our Airmen to execute their missions. We will focus our efforts to secure information by ‘building in’ cyber security solutions that mitigate vulnerabilities rather than ‘bolting on’ fixes.”

James said she sees future investments as a ‘multi-domain’ approach, using space and cyberspace assets to deliver answers to what once was the purview of conventional systems. “Our future investments also include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), stand off and long range weapons, space and cyberspace systems and emerging technologies, such as hypersonics and directed energy.”

The secretary also talked about the new complement of advanced aircraft and how, similar to the synergy of man and machine during the Korean War, a similar marriage of Airmen and future technology will determine continued air superiority. But James admitted that while the F-35 and its pilots, maintainers and weapons loaders will help maintain air superiority in the future, refueling support is just as critical.

“As we speak, we have KC-10s and KC-135s in the skies that are doing that refueling mission for us, but of course these aircraft are ancient. They’re 35 years old on average. We keep them flying thanks to amazing Airmen and thanks to the needs which are out there, but in the near future I’m happy to tell you that we will start delivering our new tanker, the KC-46 Pegasus, which will be absolutely amazing aircraft, capable of flying nearly anywhere in the world.

“Finally, we look to the future of our bomber mission in the United States Air Force. The Long Range Strike Bomber program already incorporates the tenets that I talked to you about earlier. (They are) the tenets of strategic agility because we’ve built in affordability into the process and have worked hard with industry to make our requirements clear and unambiguous and stable in those requirements as we go forward.”

James saved the best part of bold leadership for last – that of the bold leadership of Airmen.

“Airmen have always been the source of America’s airpower. I’ve watched their spirit and dedication and devotion to duty during my base visits. I’ve watched their determination and tenacity overseas in the Middle East. I’ve seen their sacrifice, I’m sorry to tell you, on a number of occasions during dignified transfer ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base.

“And as we look toward our future, it is you, the Airmen of the United States Air Force, who will carry the torch. It is you, the Airmen of the United States Air Force, who will become strategically agile. It is you, the Airmen of the United States Air Force, who make the impossible possible.”