F-22 Raptors fly alongside a KC-135 Stratotanker near Japan in April. The Raptors operated out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, as part of an Indo-Pacific Command Dynamic Force Employment exercise. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rebeckah Medeiros.
Photo Caption & Credits

World

Oct. 7, 2021

USAF’s Three Priorities: China, China, China 

Air Force Leaders Warn: The U.S. Will Lose Air Superiority Without Rapid Change.

By John A. Tirpak 

The alarming speed of China’s military advance is fueling new urgency in the Air Force to accelerate modernization and deter Beijing from military aggression. American primacy is in jeopardy, service leaders warned at AFA’s 2021 Air, Space & Cyber  Conference (ASC21). 

“We are being more effectively challenged than at any other time in our history,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. China’s air force is at parity, and in some cases holds an edge over the U.S., he said, noting that China’s nuclear forces are “acquiring a first-strike capability.” 

Over and over, speakers at the conference cited the urgent need to respond. “There is not a moment to lose,” Kendall said, calling for modernization across the entire air and space portfolio, from air operations to space and the electromagnetic spectrum. As Secretary, Kendall said, his top priorities, “in order … are China, China, and China.”

In a briefing for reporters, Air Force futurist Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, said China is no longer a future challenge. China used to be a problem “10, 15 years out in the future,” Hinote said. Now “it is a current problem,” and absent a major modernization push, USAF faces the likelihood of defeat in a war with China.  

Hinote emphasized that the Chinese air force is already “at parity … in key areas” with the capabilities of the U.S. Air Force, and in a few “important areas we’re behind, tonight,” although he didn’t offer specifics. 

“The light is blinking red,” Hinote told reporters. “We are out of time.”

Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, said the threat from China is not in the future. It is now. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

China has the largest air force in the Indo-Pacific and the largest inventory of conventional missiles in the world, said Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. It is also advancing its power-projection capability with new bases worldwide. Brown said he expects China to make good on its plans to be fully modernized by 2035 and “world class” by 2050. 

“China continues to move its modernization timelines left at a rate that is outpacing” the U.S., Brown said in his conference address. “We must move with a sense of urgency today in order to rise to the challenges of tomorrow, because the return to strategic competition is one of our nation’s greatest challenges.”

Brown said the threat posed by this new strategic competition can be “just as catastrophic” as a sudden, 9/11-type attack. Delaying action now means the Air Force will be “too late” to confront it later.

Already, the Air Force faces the risk of not being able to achieve air superiority in a fight with China, a prospect commander of Air Combat Command Gen. Mark D. Kelly warned would be disastrous. The American way of war assumes control of the air, he said, and the other armed forces depend on that. He called for a national response on the scale of the Manhattan Project to restore a formidable lead over China in air combat capability. 

As America’s “apex peer adversary,” Kelly continued, China has created a government ministry with the singular goal of wresting air supremacy away from the United States. China is “not debating” the matter, but moving deliberately to accomplish it, he stated, warning ominously that if China fields “sixth-generation” fighter capability first—aircraft that go well beyond today’s fifth-generation F-22 and F-35—“it will end badly” for the U.S.

The U.S. must also gird for more difficult and costly conflicts, Kelly warned, saying China’s military is “designed to inflict more casualties in the first 30 hours of combat than we’ve endured over the last 30 years in the Middle East.”   

China’s rise drove Kendall to “work hard to get this specific job,” he said, because if the U.S. is going to win the biggest fight “to keep our freedom, it will be because of the success of our air and space forces.” 

As a West Point grad and 11-year Army officer, he respects the contributions of the other services, but “without control of the space and air domains, their missions become all but unexecutable,” he said.

The Air and Space Forces control the “global high ground,” can project power anywhere on the planet on short notice, and are able to “confront and defeat aggression immediately, wherever it occurs,” Kendall said. Only the air and space forces can come to the aid of allies and partners “with little to no notice.”

Still, he said, to deter or defeat China, “we are going to have to change.” China and Russia studied the American way of war intensively for 30 years, and developed “asymmetric steps to exploit our vulnerabilities and to defeat us.”

USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr., at AFA’s ASC21, said China’s modernization push moves it closer and closer to sixth-gen fighter capability. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

Addition By Subtraction 

Kendall called on Congress to stop its reflexive rejection of USAF efforts to divest aging aircraft that are irrelevant to the China fight, and said the Air Force must be empowered to focus on developing the war-winning force structure it needs. 

“The Air Force will not succeed against a well-resourced and strategic competitor if we insist on keeping every legacy system we have,” he stated. Retiring unneeded assets now frees up funds to invest in new capabilities and manpower to take on new missions.

During his confirmation hearings, senators told Kendall they agreed with his view that USAF must reconfigure to deal with China, but “in the same breath” opposed USAF efforts to retire “take your pick—C-130s, A-10s, KC-10s, or MQ-9s—in that senator’s state,” he recalled.

While Kendall said he understands the “constraints” of constituent politics, “we need to find a better mechanism to make the changes we need. We must move forward.”

In a press conference, he told reporters he’s hopeful about a proposal from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, designed to break the logjam surrounding divestitures by using a mechanism similar to that used in the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Lawmakers would face a single up or down vote on a whole package of divestitures in his plan, rather than being allowed to tinker with what happens on any given base. This approach would give members cover from constituents seeking to punish any perceived lack of support for jobs back home. 

The Air Force especially will adhere to the “one team, one fight” mantra put forth by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, Kendall said. The Air Force and Space Force will continue to support each other, even as they support the other services to jointly provide “integrated deterrence.” 

All the services depend on the Air Force’s kinetic airpower, mobility, and tanking capabilities, he noted, and they likewise depend on Space Force for “resilient surveillance capabilities.” Space Force will continue to provide services such as navigation, timing and weather, and is moving forward with a new Space-Based “Ground and Surface Moving Target Indicator,” Kendall said, as well as a new “resilient space architecture” writ large. The Air and Space Forces together will continue to “enable the terrestrial services to perform their missions.” 

Kelly said 20 years fighting a war that never challenged the Air Force gave China time to focus on “the high-end fight, and fighting us,” and he singled out advances made by both China and Russia in electromagnetic spectrum operations. Paraphrasing British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery’s injunction that a military that can’t control the air will be swiftly defeated, Kelly said, “If we lose the war in the electromagnetic spectrum, we lose the war in the air, and we lose it fast.”

The Fighter Roadmap

Kelly laid out the Air Force’s plans for its future fighter force, reducing from today’s seven-fighter fleet to a “four-plus-one” scheme revealed earlier this year: 

  • The F-22 air superiority fighter will remain in the fleet until about 2030, when it will make a “hot handover” to the Next-Generation Air Dominance platform; 
  • The F-35 will be the “cornerstone” of the force; 
  • The F-15E and F-15EX will provide capacity and muscle; 
  • The F-16 will be a capacity-builder; and
  •  The A-10 will be the “plus one,” retiring in the early 2030 time frame, when it will no longer be able to survive modern air combat.

In a press conference, Kelly said he doesn’t understand the debate over whether to pursue both the fifth-generation F-35 and what he called the “4.5 generation” F-15EX, with its new flight controls, computers, and electronic warfare systems.

“I need both,” Kelly said flatly, with the F-15EX needed to quickly replace retiring F-15Cs that were worn out over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and are now becoming unsafe to fly.

Kendall on Hypersonics

Kendall was skeptical of some USAF programs and promised a “deep dive” to ensure the service is getting full value for its investment dollar. “Unsatisfied” with the Air Force’s hypersonic missile programs, which suffered a series of failures in recent tests, he noted that China and Russia have already fielded such capabilities. He also expressed frustration with “the degree to which we’ve figured out what we need” from hypersonic technology.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, speaking at ASC21, said China is at or near military parity with the U.S. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

China and Russia have a “pretty clear” vision for hypersonics, but there is “still a question mark” as to how hypersonic weapons fit with the Air Force’s strategy, Kendall said. He wants more comprehensive analysis to drive decisions about which weapons are needed for what missions, and also how many are needed to ensure a robust and meaningful capability. Kendall echoed previous Pentagon leaders and analysts who’ve questioned plans to acquire limited numbers of hypersonic missiles, at potentially more than $10 apiece, for a fight with China that could run into thousands of targets. 

Kelly told reporters hypersonic weapons offer a chance to hit targets swiftly, from great range, but that even during their abbreviated time of flight, mobile targets can move. Acknowledging that the Air Force needs “fifth-generation weapons” to go with its fifth-gen fighters, Kelly said hypersonic weapons are not the only option. 

“We will get there,” Kendall said. First “we have to solve the problem … of where we’re trying to go—and then get there as quickly as possible.”

Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., who leads Air Force Materiel Command, told reporters that AFMC will “continue to put our focus” on hypersonic weapons. “We will continue to take … educated risks as we move forward, so that we can get a capability out in the field,” he said. 

Gen. Mark Kelly, ACC commander, said losing air superiority to China would be disastrous for all U.S. military services. Mike Tsukamoto/staff.

Kelly agrees USAF should have an “unambiguous” concept of operations for hypersonic weapons. “We should make sure, before we pull the trigger and commit resources to it, [that] everybody’s on the same sheet of music,” he said.

ABMS 

One area where Kendall appears to be applying the brakes is on the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), a signature initiative of the prior administration. He has questioned whether the service is adequately “focused on achieving and fielding specific, measurable improvements in operational outcomes,” as opposed to conducting useful but unfocused experiments. Congress has also viewed ABMS as scattershot, slashing funding requests for ABMS in each of the past two years. 

Hinote said Kendall is asking “tough questions” about ABMS, and admitted that “in some cases, our answers weren’t very good.” But Hinote also emphasized the underlying need, not only for the Air Force, but for the joint force, saying he couldn’t see how the U.S. can win a war without it.

Lt. Gen. Duke Z. Richardson, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition official, said ABMS represents a “portfolio” of programs, rather than a single system, and that the connectivity provided in its Increment One capability is essential. “If we do nothing else,” he said, Increment One is “worth doing.” Richardson said the same will be true of Increment Two. USAF is “waiting for some ‘big bang’ ” ABMS operational introduction, he said.  

Brown, Richardson, and others praised Kendall’s intellect and experience as major additions for the Department of the Air Force. “We won the jackpot,” Richardson said, citing Kendall’s acquisition, policy, and Pentagon experience. Having led the Pentagon’s acquisition oversight, Kendall’s unique insight into all the services’ programs of record gives him a firm grounding that has enabled him to hit the ground running. 

No major program has escaped Kendall’s gaze, Richardson said. “He wants to make sure that we’re focused on [China] … from the perspective of the warfighter and the taxpayer,” he said. “So we are trying to make sure that we are really laser-focused on that.”                                                                  


Gen. John Raymond introduces the new Space Force Class A uniform prototypes at AFA’s 2021 Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 21. A PT uniform—black shorts with USSF’s delta logo in white, and a gray t-shirt—is now in wear testing. Guardians will also wear the multi-service Operational Camouflage utilities with blue lettering. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

State of the Space Force

By Amanda Miller 

When Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force Roger A. Towberman transferred over from the Air Force in April 2020, the Space Force achieved something Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond supposed no service had done before: “We doubled in size overnight.” 

By Sept. 21, 2021, the Space Force had sworn in 6,490 Guardians, the Chief of Space Operations told a packed ballroom at AFA’s 2021 Air, Space & Cyber Conference. Among them are transfers, Air Force Academy and ROTC graduates, Officer Training School graduates, and enlisted members graduated from both Air Force and Space Force Basic Military Training. 

This is a different kind of force, Raymond said, citing as an example a newly commissioned Guardian whose Type 1 diabetes would have disqualified him from service in any other branch because the disease renders him undeployable. In the Space Force, that won’t be an issue. 

The Space Force released its 25-page human capital plan, also referred to as a talent management model—“The Guardian Ideal”—laying out five objectives: 

  • Connect in a collaborative environment. The service will foster “a fearless organizational culture so all individuals can contribute” while removing barriers between officer, enlisted, and civilian personnel. Embedded within this objective is “The Guardian Commitment,” an individualized interpretation of the four values of character, connection, commitment, and courage.
  • Lead digital enablement. “Enhanced digital fluency” will be an expectation of all Guardians, a “cadre of cyber warriors” with a “mastery of digital competencies,” including software coders, data scientists, and IT experts.
  • Generate and engage talent. The service intends to reflect the U.S.’s “blend of diverse perspectives, cultures, ethnicities, and experiences.” Objectives within the objective are to “strengthen personal connections” between Guardians; “provide decision transparency and accountability;” and to create an environment “that values candid feedback and bold, risk-informed actions and ideas.”  
  • Develop and employ talent. The document says Guardians should anticipate in “the near future” to see the competencies defined for each job in the Space Force to help inform individualized development plans and “develop necessary foundational and occupational competencies in each Guardian.” 
  • Integrate resiliency. Recognizing that “stress, adversity, struggles, and setbacks are a natural part of the human condition,” the service intends to adopt family readiness programs, keeping in mind that “many of our Guardians have meaningful relationships that do not involve marriage or children” and offering relationship coaching and counseling.

The force continues to grow, aiming to reach 8,400 Active-duty Guardians by October 2022.

Unveiling of Uniforms and Insignia

Raymond underscored the urgency for a unified response to growing threats from China and highlighted the need to leverage advances in commercial industry. But nothing garnered quite so much attention or buzz as the prototype Class A uniforms unveiled near the end of his address, as he called to the stage two Guardians with their deep navy blue jackets, with silver buttons and braid, and gray trousers. 

The jacket’s six buttons, aligned diagonally on the wearer’s right, are symbolic of the Space Force’s place as America’s sixth military service. Its standing but open collar shows off the white shirt beneath. The buttons show off the Space Force’s Delta, Globe, and Orbit seal, and mirror-finish U.S. pins highlight the high collar.

Reaction was predictably mixed, with some loving the new look and others decrying its unorthodox design. Raymond said the service will review comments and make tweaks in the coming months leading up to eventual wear testing.

A new Space Force PT uniform is already at that stage. With black shorts featuring the Space Force’s delta logo in white and a gray T-shirt bearing the words “Space Force” in white on the back in a stylized font. Guardians will wear the multi-service Operational Camouflage Pattern utilities with blue lettering, rather than black, spelling out Space Force and the wearer’s name.

Guardians will also soon begin to wear new enlisted rank insignia, featuring deltas and elongated hexagons—another nod to USSF as the military’s sixth service. Towberman unveiled the new insignia a day before Raymond shared the service dress uniform. 

space force insignia
The Space Force released its insignia for enlisted Guardians on Sept. 20, 2021. Space Force Twitter

More Focused Training

There’s more to building a Space Force than designing spiffy uniforms, of course, and Raymond emphasized the service’s intensified approach to Professional Military Education. 

“We started with Undergraduate Space Training—completely revamped that,” Raymond said. “Shifted that from an unclassified course to a Top Secret course focused on the threat and training our operators to operate in the contested domain from Day One.” 

Raymond said the Space Force has also updated its professional development courses at Airman Leadership School, the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and Air War College—“putting more space in the curriculum,” he noted, while also developing new courses specifically for the Space Force, such as the new Space Fundamentals Course embedded in the Air Force Test Pilot School, now in its third class.

Other courses have been revamped to enable allies to take part. “We’re already seeing that,” Raymond said.

Connecting Communities

Raymond cited other advances, including establishing the Space Warfighting Analysis Center, which he called “a small organization with PhD-level talent” who, “coupled with operators … have built a new force design for our first case—missile warning/missile tracking.” He said their work had “united the Department.” Other new or improved institutions he cited include the Space Rapid Capabilities Office, Space Systems Command, the Space Development Agency, and the Missile Defense Agency.   

“And for the first time, everybody’s rowing in the same direction,” Raymond said. The payoff, he predicted, will “reduce duplication, reduce costs, and increase our ability to go fast.” 

Meanwhile, the Space Force joined the Intelligence Community as its 18th agency. “Now we have an opportunity … to dig deeper on the threats that we’re seeing in the domain, to understand those threats more fully, and really begin to work on this thing called the National Space Intelligence Center,” he said. The new center is taking two squadrons from the existing National Air and Space Intelligence Center. In the past, Raymond said the center’s purpose will be, together with the Intelligence Community, “to detect and characterize threats, defeat attacks, and respond to aggression.”

Similarly, the United States is reaching across international boundaries to forge closer ties with international partners and commercial providers. Raymond cited an August gathering of 23 nations’ space chiefs as an example. “What you’ll see with these partners is we exercise together, we train together, we wargame together,” Raymond said at the time. “We build capabilities together.”

Absorbing Missions

The Space Force will take over Army and Navy satellite programs as soon as the fiscal 2022 defense budget becomes law, including the Army Satellite Operations Brigade and Naval Satellite Operations Center, which includes both satellites in orbit and on ground systems  in the continental U.S., Hawaii, Guam, Germany, and Japan.

The Space Force had been working on the transfers for more than 18 months, with the intent “to consolidate, to increase our operational capability, to increase our readiness, and to do so in a more efficient manner,” Raymond said. 

Raymond called Space Force a “flat organization built for speed,” with fewer echelons of command. The former Space and Missile Systems Center became Space Systems Command, with headquarters at Los Angeles Air Force Base, along with space launch units at Patrick and Vandenberg Space Force Bases now referred to as “deltas,”—equivalent to Air Force wings. 

Space Training and Readiness Command followed shortly thereafter, with provisional headquarters at Peterson until a permanent HQ is selected. (See “STAR Command Stands Up,” p. 50.)

Moving Forward With Acquisition 

Department of the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in August the key to any departmental reorganization is “to move quickly to get the big parts right.” The big movements include moving the Space Acquisition Directorate under the new Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration. Meanwhile the Space Force’s Space Systems Command and its Space Rapid Capabilities, a direct reporting unit to the Chief of Space Operations, also retain acquisition roles. 

The Space Development Agency had been expected to become a part of the Space Force, but Kendall announced it will report to his office instead. He was still vetting candidates for the first official to be formally named to the new assistant secretary job.                                                                                               


Gen. John Raymond, Space Force Chief of Space Operations, updated ASC21 attendees on USSF’s evolving organization, space architecture, and space resiliency. Mike Tsukamoto/staff
Army Gen. James Dickinson, Commander, U.S. Space Command, is concentrating on building and strengthening alliances in the Pacific. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

International Space Engagement Helps Fill Strategic Gaps

By Abraham Mahshie

America’s space-dependent way of life and its military space advantage is threatened by the new space weapons wielded by adversaries. But in just two years, Space Force is motivating traditional and new partners to fill strategic gaps and guarantee access to space through investment and information-sharing, as long as the right barriers can be broken down.

One month on from a chiefs meeting in Colorado Springs that brought together heads of space agencies from 22 nations, U.S. Space Command and Space Force are marching ahead with the global engagement necessary to strengthen America’s space network and create a globally dispersed partnership.

U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond highlighted the growing partnership at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md.

“We had representatives from every continent except Antarctica,” he said, noting how the international chiefs conference doubled its attendance from its first iteration two years prior.

“It is clear that we are stronger together,” he added. “We operate together, we train together, we now are developing capabilities together. And for all the international partners that are here, thank you for being here. Again, we are stronger together. And we look forward to continuing to build that team.”

The Colorado meeting focused heavily on the need for greater space domain awareness and norms of behavior in space to counter the types of threatening anti-satellite capabilities that adversaries like China and Russia have demonstrated on orbit and from the ground.

Commander of Space Operations Command Lt. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting said America’s military edge can be made more resilient through its partners.

“Space brings us untold advantages, such as being able to overfly other countries legally,” he said. “You can’t fly in airspace above other countries because that’s sovereign territory, but that also means that you are regularly and predictably over other people’s countries in what we call their weapon engagement zone.”

From a defense standpoint, that means while America is developing a more resilient space architecture, it must defend the current architecture until hardened capabilities can be deployed.

“We are looking at all the kinds of capabilities you expect in a military organization: intelligence, cyber, command and control, force packaging, high-value capability, defense, offense, multi-domain,” Whiting said. “How do we bring all of that together to protect our assets?” 

Supreme Allied Commander Europe and head of U.S. European Command Gen. Tod D. Wolters said space’s importance must not be underestimated.

“Once you get a taste of what space can do for you, it’s very, very infectious,” he said. “We should lead from the front in how we embrace space, how we embrace cyber, how it’s baked into our activities to generate peace,” Wolters said. “We should continue to take time as uniformed military members to adequately communicate to senior civilian leadership what it is we are doing in these two domains to generate peace.”

While America’s military leaders are protecting space assets and developing new, hardened capabilities, the Space Force is working on its own to strengthen international space partnerships and fill gaps in capability. 

Finding Common Ground in Space

Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson said partners are approaching the United States and asking how they can best add to allied capability. He cited said Australia as one example of a partner seeking to strengthening its partnership with the U.S., as well as Japan, which has been eager to host American payloads and improve data-sharing.

Thompson also cited European partners, including France and Germany, which stood up its own space command in July. 

The U.S. SPACECOM commander, Army Gen. James H. Dickinson, has been hopscotching the globe to strengthen partnerships, according to deputy USSPACECOM’s director of strategy, plans, and policy Brig. Gen. Devin R. Pepper. Dickinson visited France, South Korea, and Japan in recent months, he said.

“We have what’s called an integrated priority list,” Pepper said. “That IPL [pronounced “ipple”], as we call it, lists the priorities, the things that we are most concerned about, and really the capability gaps that we have as a nation.”

The list informs allies “exactly where they can spend that next dollar.”

“The IPL helps them understand where we are asking for assistance when we need their help to close some of those gaps,” he said.

Maj. Gen.Hiroyuki Sugai, Japanese air and defense attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., watched Raymond’s presentation live. 

“Space is very competitive,” he said.“Some countries like … China and Russia or North Korea launch missiles or satellites that might jam our satellites. That is a big threat.”

To protect itself, Japan is investing in space, building closer ties to its allies, and analyzing how to defend its satellites from the jamming threat. Japan plans to stand up a space situational awareness system in 2023 using deep space radar, establishing what Sugai called the nation’s “first space capability.”

“For every program, we need to align with Space Force, because we don’t have the capability for space,” he said. “Its just beginning. We have a close cohesion with Space Force for how to build up our capability.”

Japan wants to make sure it’s space data-tracking systems integrate with Space Force systems in real time.

Today, Japan’s  space operators are limited to a squadron of about 20—but more will be added over time. 

Similarly, Germany is sending an important signal by standing up its new Space Command, German Air Force Col. Marco Manderfeld told Air Force Magazine.

“Its an outside signal to our partners that we take space seriously, and that we take the collaboration seriously,” he said during the Space Foundation’s August Space Symposium in Colorado. The objective is “to send a strong signal of how we view space, and [that] we want to be part of an international community.”

Manderfeld said establishing the U.S. Space Force two years ago was an important political motivator for allied political and military leaders in Germany.

“To stand up space is also a question of resources and prioritization,” he said. “If you want to get resources, you have to make a strong case, and pointing out what efforts our allies undertake to make space real definitely helps in the development of our space capabilities.”

While Germany’s Luftwaffe does not have a designated space career field yet, there are space specialists who work closely with allies.

“Just look at the starlit sky—to use a picture—and how can you not see how big this problem is?” Manderfeld said. “It’s actually too big to tackle it alone, even for the U.S. with the Space Force resources.”

Germany has long seen space as ripe for collaboration in information-sharing from sensors, as well as analysis.

“There are gaps, and all the allies bring surge capabilities to the table that fill out these gaps,” he said. “Just verifying results that one of the allies brings to the table, and then discussing it and get[ting] a picture and more resilient idea of what’s happening up there.”

The geographic dispersion of allied capabilities is also valuable, said British Group Capt. Peter Warmerdam, assistant air and space attaché for the United Kingdom in Washington, D.C. 

“We offer the U.S. a number of interesting locations across the globe,” Warmerdam said. 

“We built our own U.K. Space Command. We are looking to integrate on a daily basis more and more,” he said, describing his nation’s extensive exchange program and liaisons at Space Command.

Space is “the metaphorical high ground,” Warmerdam added. “Space is intrinsically important to day-to-day life, and we recognize that there are people out there that perhaps don’t necessarily work to what we would see as acceptable behaviors in space.”

U.S. Space Command’s Pepper said establishing closer ties with partners means greater information-sharing and transparency among allies and partners in space.

“The first thing we have to do is, we’ve got to break down the security barriers,” he said. “We can’t talk to our allies without making sure that space is at a classification level that we can share with our allies.”

Pepper said easing today’s overclassification is critical to helping the Space Force articulate its challenges, communicate its capabilities, and cooperate with allies. 

“We have to do this early,” Pepper said. “We can’t wait until 11 p.m., right before the fight starts, to figure out how we’re going to fight together. That’s too late. …. Being able to communicate and share information, share data, integrate our allies into the fight, is the most important thing that we’re focusing on right now.”                                                                    


On Aug. 7 the Utah Air National Guard, in collaboration with Collins Aerospace, successfully demonstrated advanced communication, mission computing, and sensor technologies to support JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command and Control) and ABMS (Advanced Battle Management System) initiatives on a KC-135 Stratotanker at the Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City. Staff Sgt. Danny Whitlock/ANG

The Future is Now

By Greg Hadley

Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, the Air Force’s futurist, has seen all the wargames and simulations, looked at all the future weapon systems and anticipated capabilities. So, when it comes to keeping the U.S. ahead of peer competitors like China or Russia, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements says there is no one “silver bullet” that will make all the difference.

But there is something that comes close: the intelligent connectivity that would enable joint all-domain command and control (JADC2).

“It does seem to be one of those things that makes everything better, that makes the entirety of the all-domain force better,” Hinote said at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference (ASC) on Sept. 21. “And it does appear to have real needle-moving capabilities.”

Later, speaking with reporters, he went further: “I don’t know how the future Air Force, the future Space Force, the future joint force wins without JADC2.” 

To defeat China in the Pacific, the United States will need to bring to bear all of its capabilities in space, air, sea, undersea, cyber, and on the ground, he said. “I can’t find a way in our wargaming and our simulations to make it work. … That hasn’t changed at all. In fact if anything, that’s gotten more important, as we’ve gone on and we’ve had several recent wargames.”

Yet as the concept catches on among planners, funding for the programs that support JADC2—in particular the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), have come under increasing scrutiny, both from Congress and from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

HARD QUESTIONS

Since becoming Secretary July 28, Kendall has been pointed in his criticism of ABMS as focusing too much on experimentation and not enough on delivering specific operational capabilities to the warfighter. 

As Secretary, Kendall said his focus is ensuring the department invests in demonstrations and experiments only when “we can link them to true operational improvements and unless they move us down the field to lower-risk acquisition programs.” 

ABMS is a case in point, he said. “My early observation is that this program has not been adequately focused on achieving and fielding specific measurable improvements in operational outcomes,” Kendall said.

In an interview with Air Force Magazine in August, Kendall said, “I think it’s absolutely correct that if we can integrate our capabilities and use them more efficiently, we’ll get a better outcome.” But the approach to ABMS was off, he suggested. “My observation from the outside was that we hadn’t focused that effort on specific outcomes for specific operational purposes.”

Former Air Force Acquisition czar Will Roper called ABMS the “Internet of Military Things,” evoking an intelligent web of interconnected sensors and shooters that could overwhelm adversaries by creating so many potential threat scenarios that they couldn’t guard against them all. 

Since 2019, the Air Force has held four ABMS demonstrations, proving the concept but not driving toward widely fieldable capabilities. A fifth demonstration in the Pacific was canceled due to budget cuts in March. But as recently as August, the Utah National Guard demonstrated an upgraded KC-135 streaming data to a mobile ground party and another aircraft.

Kendall’s skepticism has fueled a relook, Hinote said.

“He is having us, in some ways, go back and figure out exactly what it is we’re trying to do, not in the overall big hand, little map way … but he wants to know: Where is the targeting data developed?” Hinote told reporters. “Where does it go—he wants a waveform—where is the node if it needs to be fused? And where are we going to put that to make a decision off of it and execute on it? Those are valid questions, and because he has an engineering background, he holds our feet to the fire.”

OPERATIONS IN MIND

As a former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Kendall brings a methodical approach to how he evaluates programs, said Preston C. Dunlap, the Air Force’s chief architect.

“One of Secretary Kendall’s principles is, going off on a journey in the wrong direction, all you’re doing is wasting time and money,” Dunlap said. “And so what he’s asked us to do is slow down just a little bit … to make sure that the analysis and all the modeling says that that’s the direction we should go, even before we start doing experiments. So the purpose of the analysis is to make sure that if we actually deliver that system, that it will actually have a meaningful operational effect.”

ABMS was theoretically past the analysis phase last May, when Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. announced the program was moving to a new “more operational” phase. 

ABMS’ first product, Capability Release 1, will enable the KC-46 tanker to operate as a data relay to allow direct data sharing between F-22s and F-35s. The Air Force wants to buy between four and 10 data link pods for KC-46 tankers to enable that transfer, amounting to about roughly half its ABMS budget  for 2022.

Exactly what goes into Capability 1 has only been described vaguely so far. “What is clearly going to be true about Capability Release 1 is that the idea of a forward-edge node or a forward-edge network is clearly where we’re going to deal with it,” Hinote said. “Now the actual things, the actual radios we use to make that happen and the waveforms we use to make that happen, we’re still [figuring out].”

“Putting ABMS on supersonic jets is exceptionally challenging—there’s never enough bandwidth, there’s always too much latency,” said Steve Nordlund, general manager of Phantom Works at Boeing—but there are ways to get around those problems.

Richard S. Stapp, Chief Technology Officer at Northrop Grumman, said there are ways to tackle those issues using modern technology. The key is understanding the specific problems that must be addressed. 

“When you take your cell phone and you step out of the net, it continues to keep updated, it basically fuses information with what it has,” Stapp said. “But when you step back in, it picks it all up.”

Edge processing does essentially the same thing. Connections to a cloud data center may not be fast enough or even available all the time. But with enough local processing power and storage, those interruptions or delays can be virtually undetectable to the user.

UPDATE AS WE GO

Nordlund and Stapp spoke together on an ABMS/JADC2 panel with Brig. Gen. Jeffery D. Valenzia, ABMS Cross Functional Team Lead, and Ross Niebergall, the chief technology officer at L3Harris Technologies. Their conversation focused on the software needed to connect all the physical sensors, capture data, and fuse it into digestible information for warfighters. 

To get that right, they said, they need to maximize input and participation from operators who can put their tools to work; incremental capabilities will be more helpful at this stage than trying to perfect a final product.

“We’ve got to get something into the hands of the user that they can pound on … and give feedback,” Niebergall said. “But we’ve got to be in this continuously and recognize that the product is never finished and that’s the way it should be built in the first place.”

That software-centered mindset is at the heart of consumer products like smartphones, where updates can be rolled out rapidly over the air, but it’s much harder to work that way in traditional government contracting models, where requirements are supposed to be defined up front, not on the fly as they are developed. 

“We spent so much focus over the last 100 years building hardware, that we started thinking of everything as hardware—we had to build it right the first time, make it perfect, make it so that it was meeting 100 percent of the requirements,” Niebergall said. “And the consequence of that was that it had minimal ability to evolve and change and be dynamic in how it operates.”

In a software-centered world, that model doesn’t fly anymore. As Air Force leaders, with Kendall at the forefront, increasingly emphasize competition with China, they are also calling for dynamic programs and systems to push change and combat peer competitors. And most of those leaders seem to still believe ABMS is crucial in those modernization efforts. 

Now comes the task of fielding the very first capabilities, learning how those work in practice, and then adding improvements step-by-step. It couldn’t be further from the way weapons have been developed over the years. 

ABMS “does not deliver a shiny platform on the end of a ramp when it’s done,” Valenzia said. “Instead, it’s a continuous improvement.”                                                                               


Does AI Present a New Attack Surface for Adversaries? 

USAF’s ISR & Cyber Chief Warns Bad Data Could Undermine Trust in AI. 

Staff Sgt. Andrew Romero, 422nd Communication Squadron, participates in the USAFE-led cyber exercise, Tacet Venari, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 22. Tacet Venari is Latin for Silent Hunt, which describes the goal of the exercise: to hunt for adversaries within USAFE-AFAFRICA weapons systems. The exercise is one of several DOD-wide efforts to provide mission assurance and enhance command and control by providing warfighters the skills needed to deliver defensive cyber operations. 1st Lt. Hannah Durbin

By Shaun Waterman

Increasing reliance on artificial intelligence (AI)to augment human decision-making raises the risk of attacks targeting critical data and AI algorithms, warned the Air Force’s cyber policy chief at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

“If our adversary is able to inject uncertainty into any part of that process, we’re kind of dead in the water,” said Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien, deputy Air Force chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and cyber. Speaking on a panel on information warfare along with 16th Air Force boss Lt. Gen. Tim Haugh and Air Force Chief Information Officer Lauren Knaussenberger, O’Brien said AI is like any other new weapon system: Getting it is only half the battle. Defending it is just as critical. 

”Once we do get the AI, what are we doing to defend the algorithm, to defend the training data, and to remove any uncertainty?” she asked. To be effective, AI must be reliable, and warfighters must trust its insights and recommendations. But if hackers can infect the data to undermine that trust, confidence would evaporate in an instant. 

Accelerating the decision cycle to identify and cue targets rapidly in the heat of battle, AI will be essential, said Yvette Weber, Department of the Air Force associate deputy assistant secretary for science, technology and engineering, speaking in a separate session on autonomy. “Advancements in [AI and autonomous systems] are critical to accomplishing the core missions of a high end fight,” she said. 

In “highly contested environments, human machine teaming enables Airmen to process massive amounts of data, and more rapidly assist in human decision-making to arrive at targeting decisions,” Weber said.

O’Brien, however, sees risk in the midst of those potential rewards. “There’s an assumption that once we have the AI, we develop the algorithm, we’ve got the training data, [and] it’s giving us whatever it is we want it to, that there’s no risk, that there’s no threat,” she said. 

Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien. JoAnne Sorrentino/USAF

O’Brien called out Maj. Rena DeHenre, a young officer who advocated for a DOD AI Red Team in a recent post on the Over the Horizon blog. Citing a Cornell University research paper titled “Adversarial Machine Learning at Scale,” she argued that establishing Red Teams to hunt for vulnerabilities in military AI implementations is essential. “With a dedicated AI Red Team, DOD would have a central team to address and assess AI and ML vulnerabilities,” she wrote.

DeHenre is precisely the kind of maverick that O’Brien says she’s been encouraged to “protect and promote.”

In her paper, DeHenre lays out the ways in which an enemy could seek to twist U.S. reliance on AI to poison its decision- making processes. “Adversarial machine learning (AML) is the purposeful manipulation of data or code to cause a machine learning algorithm to misfunction or present false predictions,” she wrote, citing the final report of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). 

The NSCAI report notes that “even small manipulations of these data sets or algorithms can lead to consequential changes for how AI systems operate.” Indeed, the commission wrote that “the threat is not hypothetical: Adversarial attacks are happening and already impacting commercial [machine learning] systems.”

Worryingly, the commission notes that “with rare exceptions, the idea of protecting AI systems has been an afterthought in engineering and fielding AI systems, with inadequate investment in research and development.” 

Just as with any other software code, security will never be as good as it could be if it’s not built in from the start. “There has not yet been a uniform effort to integrate AI assurance across the entire U.S. national security enterprise,” the commission concludes. 

Manipulations do not even have to be intentional. AI needs to be able to flex to handle anomalous data in its training and real-world sets, as well. 

Hacking AI systems can be easier even than hacking conventional IT systems, some experts maintain. “Machine learning vulnerabilities often cannot be patched the way traditional software can, leaving enduring holes for attackers to exploit,” notes a research paper from Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. The paper goes on to point out that some hacks don’t even require insider access to the victim’s networks, since they can be accomplished by poisoning the data the system is collecting.

U.S. Air Force and Space Force students enrolled in the Cyber Protect and Defend Course study in the classroom, Feb. 11, at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in East Tennessee, as part of Mission Defense Team training. Master Sgt. Mike Smith/ANG

Defending AI, the paper argues, requires both building resilient systems and making them transparent and subject to human oversight, so the way they reached their outcomes can be understood. “Policymakers should pursue approaches for providing increased robustness, including the use of redundant components and ensuring opportunities for human oversight and intervention when possible,” the paper states. 

Ed Vasko, director of Boise State University’s Institute of Pervasive Cybersecurity, expressed similar concerns during a session on 5G networking and cyber operations. “Every single technology transformation platform that I’ve ever seen and experienced” has become a target by collecting data, he said. “Every time that we take the data elements and expand them out and find even more and more telemetry data to make use of, the challenge that we end up with is that we create more and more data environments and more information environments for our adversaries to potentially attack.”

The risks go beyond vulnerabilities created by cloud architectures or application programming interfaces, Vasko said, because the sheer volume of data being collected and processed makes up the biggest attack surface. 

“The amount of data is going to explode beyond anybody’s expectations at this point,” he said. ”I’m not talking about access, I’m not talking about API platform connectivity. I’m actually talking about just the sheer collection of that data, and what that enables our adversaries to do and to think about.”

Vasko said the key difference between these new technologies and the processes they replace is that they effectively require Airmen and Guardians to relinquish their own judgement and instead trust the algorithm to interpret the data correctly and reach a conclusion. Joint all-domain command and control creates the opportunity “to actually change up how our fighters and our Guardians are thinking about leveraging their own senses,” Vasko said.

On the flip side, however, adversaries gain the potential to interfere in battlefield decision-making at the same machine speeds that these decisions can be made. Just as misconstrued intelligence might have informed—or misinformed—a decision in the past, altering the data that underlies a machine decision in the future could have disastrous consequences. 

“If our adversaries are able to achieve any of that, and impact … the JADC2 elements that are engaged to support our fighters, it’s game over,” he said.                                           


A B-1B Lancer, tail number 85-0074, taxis at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 23, for its final flight. The aircraft is the last of 17 Lancers previously identified for divestiture by Air Force Global Strike Command and flew to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Clay Cupit/USAF

Last B-1B Bombers Retire Until B-21 Comes Online

By John A. Tirpak

Air Force Global Strike Command  (AFGSC) has retired the last of 17 B-1B bombers from its inventory, leaving a fleet of 45 aircraft that will serve until the new B-21 stealth bomber is ready for duty, the command announced.

“The last aircraft departed Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to fly to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.,” on Sept. 23, an AFGSC spokesperson said. The divestiture supports the Air Force’s “efforts to modernize America’s bomber fleet” as authorized by Congress, he said. The plan was to accomplish the divestiture by the end of fiscal 2021, which ended Sept. 30.

The smaller fleet will allow the remaining aircraft to receive more attention, spare parts, and generally achieve a higher level of readiness, AFGSC’s Director of Logistics and Engineering Brig. Gen. Kenyon K. Bell said. The cost-avoidance of operating the retired jets will also help pay for capability upgrades. The divestiture “was executed very smoothly,” he said.

Senior Air Force leaders at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference from Sept. 20 to 22 unanimously called on Congress to let the service divest other types of aircraft that are draining manpower and money away from new systems needed to deter or defeat China.

“The Air Force will not succeed against a well-resourced and strategic competitor if we insist on keeping every legacy system we have,” service Secretary Frank Kendall said in his keynote speech.

The 17 B-1 bombers were retired from a fleet of 62, which the Air Force said had been overworked by long years of providing on-call air support to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of the aircraft had severe structural fatigue, especially at the wing-pivot points, because the jets flew high and slow, instead of low and fast with wings swept, as they were designed to do.

“The aircraft we retired would have taken between $10 million and $30 million per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the B-21 comes online,” Bell said.

Congress allowed the Air Force to divest the airplanes in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

Not all the airplanes went to the boneyard. One has been sent to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., to serve as a prototype vehicle for test-fitting structural repairs, while another went to Edwards for ground testing. One will be torn down to create a digital twin at the National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita, Kan., and still another went to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to serve as a static display at the command’s museum. The digital twin will be used to develop structural repairs and capabilities improvements for the remainder of the fleet.

The remaining 13 aircraft are at the Davis-Monthan boneyard, where they will be in “Type 4000” storage. That means they’ll receive minimal protection—with latex spray on the engines and canopies—and be harvested for parts, but they will not be “recallable” from storage. Once everything of value is removed from them, the aircraft will be scrapped.

The Air Force has not said exactly when it plans to retire the remainder of the operational B-1B fleet. The service’s bomber roadmap from several years ago posited the B-1Bs phasing out in the 2031-2033 time frame. The move hinges on the successful development and fielding of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider, the first five of which are under construction at the company’s Palmdale, Calif., facilities, Kendall said at Air, Space & Cyber. The first of those aircraft is expected to fly in mid-2022. The Air Force has not said whether it expects to retire the B-1B fleet one-for-one as the B-21s come online, although Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mark D. Kelly described the swap as a “hot handover” from one fully operational system to another.                                                                                                 


Rolls-Royce Wins B-52 Engine Race

By John A. Tirpak

The Air Force has selected Rolls-Royce North America as its contractor for the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program, or CERP, which will supply new F130 powerplants for all 76 of Air Force Global Strike Command’s B-52H bombers, the Pentagon announced Sept. 24. If all options are exercised, the work is worth $2.6 billion.

The F130 engine is already flying on the C-37 transport and E-11 BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) aircraft. The first part of the indefinite quantity-indefinite delivery contract is worth $500.9 million. The contract calls for Rolls to supply 608 engines, to equip 76 B-52s with eight engines each, with manufacture and installation to be completed by Sept. 23, 2038. Rolls said the actual number of powerplants, including spares, is 650.

The engines will be built at Rolls’ Indianapolis facilities, where the company said it has invested $600 million in an “advanced manufacturing campus.” The work will require 150 new hires, the company said. The contract value is substantially below initial estimates, which ran as much as $10 billion for the CERP.

USAF received four proposals for the competitive contract, which also calls for spare engines, associated support gear, commercial engineering data, and “sustainment activities.” 

The CERP competition started in 2018 and was a three-way contest among GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce. The Air Force pioneered a number of “digital” firsts on the program, insisting on a paperless proposal in which the competitors’ engines would duke it out on computers. The service also insisted on access to tech data such that it could compete future work on the program among other companies.

The CERP is one aspect of a multi-pronged update of the B-52, which is also slated to receive a new radar, digital cockpit, and new connectivity upgrades. The Air Force plans to retain the B-52 into the 2050s, as a standoff weapon platform and as a direct attack aircraft when enemy defenses are limited or already beaten down. The last B-52H now in service was built in 1962, but is still flying with its original Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines. 

The CERP is supposed to deliver up to 40 percent improved range and fuel economy for the B-52, reducing its tanker requirements and increasing its on-station loiter time. The engine is also supposed to be of such improved reliability that the engines need never come off the wing during the bomber’s remaining service life.

 Acting Air Force acquisition executive Darlene Costello said the CERP would likely be converted into a USAF major acquisition program given its scope and value.

Boeing, the original builder of the B-52, will integrate the engines, radar, and other new systems onto the bomber but did not play a role in selecting the winner of the CERP competition. A Boeing official said the company provided data to the Air Force on the relative ease or difficulty of integrating each of the competing powerplants but did not make a recommendation on selection. Boeing will decide whether and how to mount the engines in twin-engine pods or nacelles, as the TF33s are now arranged, and will do the necessary aerodynamic calculations as to the placement of the engines for optimum performance and least interference with the aerodynamic structure. A Boeing official said the B-52’s disused nose-mounted infrared pods will likely be removed to improve airflow at the front of the bomber.                      


Hypersonic Missile Flies

By John A. Tirpak

The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) vehicle, developed under a partnership of the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, made a free flight the week of Sept. 20, a DARPA spokesman said, but most details are being withheld. The vehicle, which was built by Raytheon Technologies with a hypersonic engine built by Northrop Grumman, flew faster than Mach 5, but DARPA declined to say how long the vehicle flew.

The engine “kicked on” seconds after being released from an aircraft, which DARPA and the Air Force declined to identify, although DARPA expressed appreciation to “Navy flight-test personnel.” The Navy has been conducting hypersonic missile research with F/A-18 aircraft.

The engine “compressed incoming air mixed with its hydrocarbon fuel and began igniting that fast-moving airflow mixture, propelling the cruiser at a speed greater than Mach 5,” DARPA said. In order for the scramjet engine to ignite, the vehicle must be moving at hypersonic speed, so a booster is used for that portion of the flight.

All of the “primary” goals of the test flight were achieved, including “vehicle integration and release sequence, safe separation from the launch aircraft, booster ignition and boost, booster separation and engine ignition, and cruise.”

The HAWC is exploring air-breathing hypersonic flight in parallel with the Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid-Response Weapon (ARRW), which is accelerated to hypersonic speed by a rocket before being released and gliding toward its target.  

HAWC builds on previous hypersonic scramjet projects, including the X-30 National Aerospace Plane, “as well as unmanned flights of NASA’s X-43 vehicles and the U.S. Air Force’s X-51 Waverider,” said Andrew Knoedler a manager in DARPA’s tactical technology office.

The Air Force has said it plans to pursue both the ARRW and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), as initial and future hypersonic attack capabilities, respectively. The HACM will be an air-breathing system, which would have longer range than the ARRW because it can use ambient air for an oxidizer, rather than relying on the boost effects of a missile. As ARRW glides to its target, it will lose energy because it is no longer powered. While the Air Force plans to put the ARRW on the B-52 in early iterations, it has said the HACM will be smaller and carried on fighter-sized aircraft.

DARPA announced one year ago that it had just completed captive-carry tests of HAWC and would make a free flight by the end of 2020, but that test was scrubbed, and apparently it took another 10 months to re-attempt it. Recent efforts to fly ARRW have not been successful, and an investigation into a July failed attempt is still underway.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall pledged an upcoming “deep dive” into the various hypersonic programs underway, looking for ways to improve and accelerate them.

Lockheed Martin is also working on HAWC, but DARPA did not mention the company in its release.                                               

An artist’s rendering of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) developed by DARPA and the Air Force. DARPA

The Browns—and the Needs of Exceptional Families

Chief of Staff of the AIr Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., and wife Sharene Brown, speak about their family and careers at the Air Force Association’s 2021 Air, Space & Cyber Conference on September 22 in Maryland. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

By Amanda Miller

The Air Force’s top officer-and-spouse duo shared a personal reason they take family readiness to heart in a town hall talk on the final afternoon of AFA’s 2021 Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. and his wife Sharene said caring for their son with autism has helped to inform improvements to the Defense Department’s Exceptional Family Member Program and that EFMP families have, in turn, informed a new quality-of-life initiative called Five to Thrive. 

Sharene Brown revealed Five to Thrive for the first time during the town hall.

When the Browns go on base visits as a couple, he peels off one way “for mission stuff” while “she’s doing Airman and family things,” General Brown explained during the town hall Sept. 22 at ASC21. Those experiences helped shape Five to Thrive, Sharene Brown said, which will address issues related to housing, education, child care, spouse employment, and health care—in particular, access to health care and mental health care. 

Without going into a lot more detail about the new effort, Sharene Brown said it’s “so that we can make sure that our families are doing well.” She added that for families in the Defense Department’s Exceptional Family Member Program, the five focus areas “are our main focus—not only for us, but for all of you.”

The Browns shared, with his permission, that one of their two sons has autism. He’s an adult now and blogs about it, “so he’s made this a positive,” Sharene Brown clarified. 

It’s also meant they’re aware of the challenges of caring for someone while navigating the DOD system. Brown revealed that the family managed to stay stateside the first 24 years of his Air Force career to care for their son.

Sharene Brown referred to the family’s experience in the Exceptional Family Member Program as “being part of the EFMP family.” 

Brown summed up recent improvements to the program that the couple have taken part in devising: streamlining some of the processes for accessing care and especially having brought in “a highly qualified expert to really focus on improving this process—because it is a process that had too much bureaucracy in it,” he said. 

A new method tested this summer, and rolling out incrementally, created something like “a speed pass if you have a minor issue,” Brown said. 

A central way for EFMP families to figure out what services will or won’t be available at their next duty station is also getting up and running, so that “you get an idea—based on the condition you’re dealing with,” Brown expressed, “what’s [the likelihood] that you’ll be able to go” and “to ensure that you have support for your family member.”

Each time Sharene Brown travels to a base with Chief Brown, she tries to meet with two or three EFMP families “to hear their story and hear their frustration—or how well we’re doing or not doing,” Brown said, referring to leaders.

“And I applaud her for doing that—because every family has a story.”      


CMSAF: Airmen Remain Most Competitive Advantage Over Adversaries

By Amy McCullough

 The U.S. military is at an inflection point, and if it fails to adapt to the current threat environment, it very well could lose the next fight. And while new platforms like the B-21 will play a critical role in competing, deterring, and winning in a high-end fight, it is U.S. Airmen that are the true secret weapon, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass said.

“We are indeed at an inflection point in history where the choices that we make today will have a lasting impact on the world that we have tomorrow, and every Airman needs to know that,” Bass said during her keynote address at AFA’s Air, Space &, Cyber Conference on Sept. 20. “More importantly, we need to know what’s at stake if we just simply stay the course. We are serving in a time where we don’t have time for spectators. This is a time for all of us to step into the arena, and to get to work.”

Like the other Air Force and Space Force leaders speaking at the conference, Bass cautioned that time is running out. China, she said, is wrapping up its marathon and is now sprinting to the finish line to claim what it believes to be its “rightful position as the world’s dominant power”—a title it intends to hold by 2049.

“They seek to create a world where America as a global power is a distant memory, and where the rules of power are set by China,” she said. “And today we are in the last 30 years of China’s 100-year marathon, and under the leadership of Chairman Xi, they are sprinting to the finish line, because they think we are too weak, and broken politically, economically, and militarily to stop them.”

That is why it’s critical that every Airman not only understand the threat, but also their role in deterring and defeating potential adversaries, Bass stated. China is not only focused on defeat, it wants to break the United States’ will to fight—and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

“They don’t feel bound by rules, laws, or norms that govern warfare,” she said. “This requires us to change our way of thinking and how we prepare our Airmen for the future. It is what is driving us to refocus our readiness efforts from contingency operations to a future high-end fight. Again, every Airman needs to understand that future conflict will look very different from what we have seen in the past 20 to 30 years. It will span across multiple domains, using any and all advantages and tactics on both military and nonmilitary targets. The high-end fight that we must prepare for could be unlike anything we have ever faced in history, and it will require us to accelerate the change we need today to win tomorrow.”

The service last spring released a series of core competencies expected of all Airmen, such as character and competence, that will serve as the roadmap to empowerment, Bass said. These skills will serve as the foundation of the future force, so Airmen will be able to competently execute the mission, lead at all levels, manage resources, and improve their units.

“We must trust in them to do so, from the most junior Airmen all the way up, because it’s our Airmen, our Airmen, that remain our most competitive advantage over any adversary that we may have,” Bass said.                                                     

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass speaks at the 2021 Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 20. China thinks the U.S. is vulnerable politically, militarily, and economically, said Bass, but they don’t understand our greatest asset—our Airmen and Guardians. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

AFRC Plans for Gaps Between Retiring Aircraft, Bringing in New Planes

By Greg Hadley

If Secretary Frank Kendall and other Air Force leaders get their way, the service will be retiring older aircraft in the near future as it looks to modernize. Specifically, legacy systems such as the A-10, KC-135, F-16, and C-130H are all primed for the chopping block, based on the USAF’s recent budget requests.

Should that happen, as Kendall has insisted it needs to, the Air Force Reserve stands to be affected in a major way—roughly two thirds of the Reserve’s 324 aircraft are C-130Hs, KC-135s, F-16s, and A-10s. 

What’s more, replacements for those aircraft are not necessarily on a one-for-one basis, at least not right away. The result, Air Force Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee acknowledged, will likely be a gap between old airplanes going away and new ones arriving.

“In a perfect world, it would be heel to toe, you would have one butting up against the other,” Scobee said during a media roundtable at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference. “On a regular basis, I am reminded we do not live in a perfect world.”

Scobee, who served as the Reserve’s director of plans, programs, and requirements in 2013-14, is familiar with the challenges that come from programs shifting. In his eyes, there’s a distinct time frame for which he would feel comfortable handling any sort of gap between old and new.

“I can gap a year,” Scobee said. “And the way I do that is I don’t own one of anything. I have to have at least two of anything that goes on.”

Indeed, AFRC has multiple units with F-16s, A-10s, and KC-135s. Should one of those units lose their aircraft, Scobee said the others will help pick up the slack to ensure pilots and maintainers can keep up their training.

“If you look at the fighters and those kinds of things, I’ll have another unit,” Scobee said. “So what we’ll do is we’ll share airplanes, we’ll share flying hours, we’ll share the opportunities to turn wrenches, and we’ll be able to turn up some of the flying hours in order to keep people on the staff.”

Should the gap last longer than a year, Scobee said, “It becomes very hard, because then, even with attrition, I’ll lose a lot of people, and it’ll take me a few years to gain them back.” At the same time, the Active-duty Air Force and the Air National Guard should be able to help, as they have done in the past.

While the coming years will likely mark the biggest weapons systems changes facing the Reserve in years, Scobee noted that AFRC has experience changing over to other new equipment and readjusting its organizational structure.

“What it really boils down to is we have a plan for how we go forward,” Scobee said. “As these changes occur, what we want everybody to understand is we have done this before. It’s not that new to us, and we’ve been very successful. And everybody whose job may transition or change because of the new weapon system, we’re going to take care of them individually.”