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Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson addresses the standing room only crowd at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium on Feb. 22, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. Air Force Magazine photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson kicked off AFA’s 2018 Air Warfare Symposium on Thursday by highlighting the need for innovation to ensure the Air Force is successful in the future fight.

She said the recently released National Defense Strategy acknowledges “what all of us for several years have been realizing,” that the United States “now faces a more competitive and dangerous environment than we have seen in generations.”

Great-power competition has re-emerged as the central challenge to US prosperity and security, she told the gathering, saying the US’ “relative advantage” in air and space power is being challenged and “we have to rise to that challenge.”

For nearly three decades USAF has had “exquisite command, control, and communications” on the battlefield, but in future combat against a near peer adversary “that’s not going to be guaranteed.” That’s why the service is pushing to empower airmen at all levels. 

“We’re going to have to expect you as airmen to take mission orders and execute in an environment where command, control, and communication is not assured and still prevail,” Wilson told the airmen sitting in the audience. “That requires airmen who think, innovate, and get after the mission without being told how to do everything.” 

Keeping its competitive edge will require new creative approaches, innovation, resources, and execution at the “speed of relevance,” she said. “It’s time to take risks.” “The advantage in ... our era will go to those who not only create the best technologies, but also best integrate and field them in creative operational ways that provide military advantages,” she said.

“It’s time to take risks. It’s time to productively fail,” said Wilson.