Retired Maj. Gen. Doug Raaberg, executive vice president of the Air Force Association, hosts Brig. Gen. Shawn N. Bratton, commander of the Space Force’s Space Training and Readiness Command; and Lt. Gen. Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command in a discussion of “Warfighter Training and Readiness” at the AFA Warfare Symposium on March 4, 2022. Watch the video or read the transcript below. This transcript is made possible through the sponsorship of JobsOhio.
Maj. Gen. Doug Raaberg: Well, on behalf of the Air Force Association, good morning and welcome back to this discussion of Warfighter Training and Readiness. We’ve talked a lot about technology and equipping the future fight. Now we’re turning our attention to the most important weapon system in the arsenal: people. Training and preparing war fighters to be masters of the war-fighting domain is absolutely pivotal. If we’re going to take America’s best and brightest, and put them directly into harm’s way, then we need to be absolutely sure we’re investing in the right resources to make them successful. That’s especially important today as we prepare to engage peer threats in the contested realms of air, space, and cyber.
I’m delighted to be joined by Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander, Air Education and Training Command. And joining him is Brig. Gen. Shawn Bratton, commander of the newly formed Space Training and Readiness Command, STARCOM. Sirs, I appreciate it, and thank you for being with us today. So I’d like to begin with your initial thoughts and perspectives on your commands’ role in events playing out on the global stage. In keeping with our theme, ‘Air and Space Power: Indispensable to Deter, Fight and Win,’ some are perhaps wondering why America has an Air Force and perhaps a Space Force. Sir, thoughts? Gen. Webb.
Lt. Gen. Marshall B. “Brad” Webb: Thanks, Doug. And thanks for having us here. Kind of be the close-out session, before we get on to the other festivities. Let me just say—and I will answer the question—but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge right off the bat, today: 20th anniversary of Operation Anaconda. The last Medal of Honor recipient, John Chapman—‘Chappie’—gave his life in defense upon that mountain. It’s germane, obviously, because it’s 20 years ago, and for some of us in the room, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. But the other thing is, it’s germane to the topic we’re going to talk about, which is Airmen and Guardians and the importance of that weapons system.
So the question, ‘Why does America have an Air Force?’ If you listened to Gen. Brown’s comments yesterday—and actually, this has been an ongoing discussion that we’ve been grappling with in the senior leaders of the Air Force, and I really like where we’ve landed. If you ask a soldier, ‘Why do we have an Army?’ he’d say it’s to fight and win our nation’s wars. If you asked a sailor, it’s to project power abroad and protect sea lines of communication. And in the Air Force, sometimes we’d roll back into the five core missions of the Air Force—air superiority, rapid global mobility, etc. But why do we have an Air Force? And Gen. Brown was loud and clear on it yesterday. It’s to defend the homeland, project our power abroad, support the joint force, and he’s added this corollary—which I love and you would have heard it yesterday—‘all done on the bedrock of our foundations.’ And our foundations for the Air Force are readiness, infrastructure and people. Obviously, in the Air Force, Airmen, and Space Force, Guardians. And I think that’s really, really important. And that right there encapsulates grit. And how you do that, of course, becomes the core missions inside the Air Force. But right there I think is very germane, and Gen. Brown was really, really sharp on articulating that yesterday.
Raaberg: Thank you, sir. Governor, over to you for STARCOM.
Brig. Gen. Shawn N. Bratton: Hey, thanks. Thanks. It’s an honor to be up here. And for the folks in the room that there’s a pretty good crowd here for the last session at the end of the hallway on Day 2, so way to get your money’s worth out of AFA. Thanks for coming out to hear us.
I’ll tell you on the Space Force side, STARCOM is the newest of the new thing, right? If the Space Force, I think Gen. Brown or Gen. Raymond said, ‘is a toddler running around.’ We’re in our infancy for sure on the STARCOM side and couldn’t do it without our partners in AETC, among other places across the Air Force. So I see a lot of AETC patches out here. Thanks to you guys for helping us figure this out.
The STARCOM mission is pretty straightforward: prepare every Guardian for competition and conflict. And we see, you know, we see a great example of that going on in the world right now. What we ask ourselves every day is, ‘What are we doing inside of STAR Command to ensure those Guardians are ready to go when the combatant commanders need them?’ But whether it’s basic training, as we work through the transition, OTS, or all the way up to weapons school and advanced training activities, we owe the force, operational force, just the best training we can. So they’re ready when called upon, whether it’s in EUCOM, INDOPACOM, CENTCOM or in the space AOR in support of U.S. Space Command. So that’s on our mind. Chiefs here with me, we think about it, and how do we develop those activities to train Guardians to be ready for competition and conflict is what we’re working through. And like I said, can’t do that without our partners in AETC. So, with that, happy to have a discussion.
Raaberg: Well, thank you, sir. So let’s go. Gen. Webb. I have a feeling you’ve been asked this question quite often from the top echelons of the Department of Defense all the way out in the field. So from a session to combat readiness, how well do you now feel you prepare Airmen to support a COCOM mission?
Webb: How do I feel about how we’re preparing Airmen?
Raaberg: How well you prepare them.
Webb: How will we prepare them?
Raaberg: How well?
Webb: OK. It’s ‘will’ and ‘well.’ You get both. Well, the other thing that you will have heard that I think is consistent with the themes, you heard from the secretary yesterday, and also the chief. And, you know, while the statement may be Agile Combat Employment or multicapable Airmen, this is about an agile mindset. And yeah Gen. Brown in his comments was actually remarking on, I guess, for instance of someone that was building a checklist to, you know, check off the box to become an Agile Combat Employment Airman or something like that. And then he said, ‘No. Throw that away. This is about a mindset.’ Now, I mean, I, you know, we could argue on the margins of whether capabilities need to be documented or not. But this is more about the mindset. A mindset that has understanding of mission-type orders. Mission command. ‘Being comfortable with being uncomfortable’ is really how I like to articulate it. And that’s a goal, of course, but it’s a mindset. And so uncertainty is going to be the coin of the realm in these future fights. And without, you know, developing into a long lecture, the bottom line is, you know, culturally in the Air Force, we like to talk about weapon systems. That is, culturally, what we are. But the asymmetric advantage in this great power competition, when we talk about China or we talk about Russia is, in my case, the Airmen. I think, you know, I won’t speak for Shawn, but it’s kind of the same case with Guardians in the Space Force. This is the asymmetric advantage, and part of that is getting outside the box and allowing our Airmen to be all that they can be. And I have any number of examples where I feel very confident that, within the United States Air Force, we’re well on that path.
Raaberg: Now, Gen. Bratton, you probably get asked the question a little differently, and that is obviously, with STARCOM, you know, being less than a year old and growing. To begin with, I imagine most people ask you, ‘Can you describe STARCOM for us?’
Bratton: Yeah, sure. No, thanks. We stood up just last August—August 23—last year and hit you know, our six-month birthday a couple weeks ago. So it’s been nonstop build, but the foundation of it existed in AETC, in Air Combat Command, in the squadrons that transferred over from the Air Force into STARCOM. AFOTEC, as well. So the broad mission at STARCOM is training and education just like AETC, so the AU, inclusive of the LeMay Center. So we do doctrine as well in STARCOM, similar to AETC, but we also pick up a little bit of the Warfare Center activities. And so the weapons school, the 328th out there making weapons officers falls under STAR Command, the Space Flag—Red Flag-like activities that you see across the Air Force—what I think of as advanced training, although probably not exactly the right label, but that falls under us, as well as the AFOTEC mission. So Gen. Sears in the AFOTEC team down there at Kirtland doing all the operational tests. We take that on, as well.
And tying all that together—especially the training and test missions—is really the range. And so range and aggressor units that came over from Air Combat Command, and then what we’re building out to be able to do training and test for orbital warfare, which is really the growth area as we respond to the adversary is the hard work ahead of us. We’re leveraging everything that AETC has done. We pull Guardians from Keesler, Goodfellow and the Vandenberg unit that’s actually part of the Space Force, as well as that fundamental training done it at OTS and BMT and AETC. I mean, those are our partners. But the mission is a little bit bigger in a sense of there’s more things, but a lot smaller in a sense of the scale that the Air Force has to generate and train to, you know, the size of the Space Force lets us do things in a much smaller scale.
Raaberg: If I stick with you, Gen. Bratton, and so how’s your roadmap coming along? How well?
Bratton: Yeah, pretty well. I mean, we’re certainly in a build phase. So it’s everything from, you know, a lot of facilities, a lot of civilian hiring going on. The unit that came over, you know, we’re through kind of the paperwork thrash of OCRs and all that. A lot of basing activities ahead of us. So there’s sort of the bureaucracy that’s demanded of any new organization occupies a lot of our time. But at the delta and squadron level, we’re really getting after what are the advanced training requirements.
And so, for example, you know, orbital warfare. The adversary’s got a lot of capability on orbit today, and they continue to demonstrate that—direct-ascent ASATs, rendezvous and proximity operations. We don’t live or, historically, we haven’t trained live against those things. We’ve done some sim activities. But we’re really starting to think through Guardians in training, before they show up at their operational squadron, really need to have a couple of those sorties under their belt for what do you do when an adversary spacecraft approaches you on orbit? What does hostile intent look like? What’s a hostile act in space? There’s a lot of policy that goes to that. But in the training environment, that just the basic TTPs for war fighting; we got to figure those out. We got to figure them out right now. And so we’re after that in the simulated environment, and I think we’re going to see some of that training move to the live environment.
Raaberg: So between both of you, starting with you, Gen. Webb, what are kind of some of the similarities and perhaps differences now that you see both commands formed up?
Webb: Yeah, so obviously, some very similar functions and Shawn’s kind of articulated some of the differences with Space Force and STARCOM. The charge that Gen. Goldfein and then Gen. Brown gave to me and is, you know, obviously, I got intent from Gen. Raymond as well, is still playing out. And so there’s some areas, there’s a lot for us that STARCOM is biting off and trying to really form from the ground up. We in AETC want to be in a position where we can be value-added and take those things that maybe aren’t first order pieces that Space Force wants to address, but that they’ll address—or not—down the road. They … can have the decision space to take that on later.
For instance, recruiting. Recruiting service, is we, AETC, is doing the recruiting service function for Space Force for the time being. And we’ll see down the road where Space Force wants to go with that. And, you know, a maybe it’s a little-known fact that when Air Force stood up, back in 1947, the Army recruited for the Air Force for about the first five to seven years before we stood it up. So we want to be in a position to do that with Space. And frankly, any other of the areas that Space Force would like us to take on so they can get after their first order pieces.
One other difference is, of course, is we have the 59th Medical Wing in AETC. They’re stationed there at Lackland, alongside BMT. I mentioned that only because it’s not—and it’s not an ‘only’—through the last two years of the pandemic, that that wing was game-changing in our ability to fight through. That’s a whole other story that I won’t necessarily go into. So there’s a little bit of nuances on the side that are different. The wheelhouse or the center of gravity is kind of similar, but there’s some little bit of differences there.
Raaberg: Gen. Bratton, but it’s gonna be the same questions, differences, similarities, but let’s start with the fact that the U.S. Space Force is a digital service.
Bratton: So we say that a lot. We’re still learning what it means, I think, in many ways. We looked to our partners in AETC, and they’re stepping out on this as, I think, as much as the Space Force is, with leveraging technology and digital aspects into the training environment. And so, you know, the chief and I were down at the 37th Training Wing seeing the BMT enterprise last week. A lot of discussion going on about their about AETC’s plan to introduce that, and I think we’ll benefit.
Again, a little bit it goes back to the scale. There’s some things that AETC is able to do, just because the scale is so large, that we’ll be able to just leverage and ride on their coattails a little bit. Conversely, there’s some things that we’ll be able to do because we’re really small that we can act as a pilot program for AETC to maybe watch and see how that goes. You know, we’re all up on the wearables right now for PT and trying to think through what that means for holistic health. I think that might be an area where the Air Force’ll watch us closely. Conversely, you know, we had a lot of talk about technology and BMT introduction of iPads, where AETC is going and where we want to go and leverage that as well. So the partnership will stay close, I think, for a long time. Certainly places like Keesler and Goodfellow, you know, across this sort of second Air Force enterprise. We have tight partnerships, and we’re not in a rush to kind of separate and do our own thing. I think there’s places where we will, for sure. But that’ll come in time, and we’ll do it smartly, both for the realities of cost, and then just there’s no need to rush into something when there’s nothing that’s broken right now. There’s things we want to do, absolutely. But I think we’ll stay pretty tightly coupled for a few years.
Raaberg: Thank you. Gen. Webb, so you’re dealing with the full spectrum, and not just from entry to the combat readiness, but rather from culture to really doctrine. So what does it really take to be an Airman?
Webb: It’s really back to my, I guess, second point that I made with you. And I’d just like to summarize that as being ‘comfortable with uncertainty.’ This is about the Airman that has an agile mindset. As a case in point, and I don’t know if I’m skipping ahead on some of the questions, but it’s germane. All of the Air Force was involved, you know, really deeply with the Afghan evacuee situation a few months ago. And AETC was as well. In fact, one of the bases that was identified to be one of the landing spots was Holloman Air Force Base. And, in fact, the general—the National Guard general, Gabrielli—was assigned out there in conjunction with the 49th Wing.
Anyway, Chief Thompson and I went out to visit them early in the days. And in two instances—I would share two instances with you, both of them female first lieutenants, by the way. We’re on the ground. We happened to be there when one of the evacuee planes landed from overseas there at Holloman and got to watch this process. There was a female lieutenant—actually not from AETC, she was from Seymour Johnson—her name was first—at the time, she may be a captain now—1st Lt. Whitney Longenecker. She was a personnelist assigned there at Seymour Johnson. And she’s running around just organizing chaos, frankly—of people that are coming off the plane, what lines they’re going to get into, where are they going to go for their various in-processing. And I’m looking at her, and I’m going, ‘Hey. Lt., have you ever deployed before?’ And she’s, ‘Oh, no, sir. This my first deployment.’ I mean, it kind of is it looks like a deployment, you know, in the sense of the chaos as there’s cranes literally building the tent city as we talk and scads of kids runnin’ around kicking soccer balls. I mean, it was chaotic. And she’s organizing this thing, and she’s taken to it. And this is what I’m talking about. ‘Is there a process for what you’re setting up?’ ‘No, sir. I just understand what needs to get done. And we’re doing the best with, we’ll try it. If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.’ That’s precisely what we’re talking about.
The other one was a first lieutenant—now she is a captain—Saleha Jabeen. She is the DoD’s only female imam in the Department of Defense. And I mean, we were there probably less than two weeks into this thing, and every one of the Afghan refugees oriented directly with her. And especially the women that were coming—and the children—that were coming off of the planes there from Afghanistan. And she became—I would say from Gen. Gabrielli’s perspective—the first she had the first seat with him on everything.
And in fact, she’s from Sheppard; she belonged in my formation. We started looking to, ‘Hey, she needs to redeploy for some other duties.’ And Gen. Gabrielli said, ‘We got to have her.’ And she stayed for the entire duration of this piece. And that, these, and she was kind of a little bit maybe she had taken more than just a narrow path of what maybe a [unintelligible] but it was very important. And she could see what is the right thing to do.
Raaberg: Sir, I think what you’re almost describing is almost a new ethos of an Airman—agile Airmen, and we’re gonna touch on agile Guardian. Just the previous panel, the Air Force reserve deputy, Maj. Gen. John Healy, described the new agile Airman loadmaster, delivering not only cargo but also babies and in real time, everything going on. So let’s talk about that ethos of a Guardian, because this is important, Gen. Bratton, and that is, how does STARCOM at the leading edge begin to mold that ethos through your training pipeline?
Bratton: I’ll tell you, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about this. And the foundations of the Space Force are in the Air Force. I, you know, was an Airman for 35 years, prior enlisted, I walked the parade field at Lackland and then through OTS. And so, you know, that certainly informs our thinking. You know, same is true for the chief, that same background went through Goodfellow as a 1N.
But we’re bringing in now the counterparts from the Army and Navy, so the interservice transfers—about 1,000 of them, including the civilians coming across this year—that’ll bring some different perspectives for us. You know, there’s been incredible space capability in the Army all along, and a lot of those folks are coming over. And so that will, I think, over time, it will lead us to diverge from the Air Force. Certainly, there’s a challenge that we’re working through on how do you—really on the training side—you know, how do you equip someone to operate in the space domain when they will never go to the space domain? You know, the flyers in the Air Force, look out the window, they see the air domain all around them. We can all stand on the ground and look up and see their aircraft. We can’t do that in the space domain, and so we have to present a training environment that enables Guardians to visualize, to understand, you know, the physics of the space domain and how movement and maneuver there is so very different than movement and maneuver on the sea, on land, in the air.
I think conveying those in the training environment, providing a range that lets them experiment and test and train and develop tactics, will be key for us. But that sort of visualization, understanding of it at the cognitive level of how to operate in a place that you will never go, you know, unless you’re fortunate enough to hitch a ride with SpaceX, if you’ve got the money, or, you know, take the astronaut route through NASA, which, you know, the Air Force has historically done. But that’s just a handful of folks who are ever going to actually get there. So it’s a big challenge. We’re thinking through it. How to best present that and then build that into the culture and identity of all Guardians.
Raaberg: Go ahead, sir.
Webb: Doug, can I, I’d like to circle back just a little bit on the, on this concept of the Airmen we need going forward. In the Air Force, what’s gotten traction in the last couple of years is the term ‘developing the Airmen we need—DAWN.’ And fundamental to that, and then I, you know, these, we run the risk of kind of becoming buzzword bingo sometimes with our words, and what does that really mean when we talk about, you know, certain phrases. And one of them is ‘foundational,’ you know, kind of stuff. And another one is ‘competencies.’ And, of course, in AETC, there’s this phraseology of foundational competencies that become really important when we talk about the Airmen we need going forward.
One of the advances that we’ve done with Gen. Brown is really slap the table on what we’re calling, ‘What are these competencies?’ And they really bucketize, I won’t, that’s a, it’s a laundry list — it’s 24 terms, I will go through that — but they’re bucketized very well, I think. When we talk about developing the Airmen we need, we’re talking about development of yourself, development of others, development of ideas and development of the organization. And if you kind of think about it in that terms, it really kind of adds to this agile mindset that I’m talking about this mission, multicapable Airmen. But it’s in those buckets of development that’s really going to be key with AETC going forward.
Raaberg: It’s really true. You know, the young Guardian and the young Airman are really the innovators. So we just got to equip them that way and train them to think that way even more, even though it comes naturally for them. So on that note, I’d like to get into your kind of your command mindset, especially as you see your commands setting the foundation for developing leaders of tomorrow. But at the same time, you’re developing readiness for today. So really, how do you, what’s changing from that perspective as you foundationally?
Webb: Well, the developmental competencies or the foundational competencies of development is really ground zero for us. The, you know, inside the AETC vision is developing exceptional Airmen of character—the foundation of our United States Air Force. It’s right there in the phraseology. So foundationally, you know, if you were to ask me this foundation, you know, what’s your role in AETC with respect to building that foundation, it’s right there. And so all of those categories of development from self to others to organization to ideas are fundamental with us going forward.
Raaberg: Gen. Bratton?
Bratton: Yeah, I think we’re trying to think through for the Guardians coming in, I mean, they’re very demanding and want access to just the both the best training, which we owe them, but also a variety. They’re nervous. We in the Space Force, to some extent, we put people into what we call a space power discipline, so like electronic warfare, orbital warfare, space battle management. There, when I talked to the lieutenants and the young Guardians, they’re concerned about being tracked into that for an entire career.
Now, in my career in the Air Force, I got to do all sorts of things. I cross-trained, I was an O-33, SO-17, I became a 13S space operator, I was prior enlisted radar maintenance. So I, you know, I had a ton of variety in my Air Force career, and I went back to training over and over as needed to support those decisions—both that the service needed from me and that I got to make. You know, going to weapons school, going to PME and residence. We’re thinking through something that the Air Force does on a large scale. How can we do that on a smaller scale and allow a lot of cross-training opportunities? … We have so few AFSCs today, I think it lets us be a little more nimble there.
And then these advanced training opportunities, and these things like Test Pilot School, Weapons School, Super Coders—which is a Space Force, kind of advanced coding school—SAS, I mean, these opportunities. So when you build a career, from the service point of view, I’m constantly making a better operator. More lethal in the space domain but also a lot of choice for the Guardian, that I would, we think may positively affect retention—reasons to stay—because you’re constantly given opportunities to cross-train, but also maintains a high level of interest. There’s always another thing to learn, another opportunity. And that’s true in PME, in training, in advanced training activities.
And so, I think, we’re small enough, we can build the construct. I don’t think there’s anything new there. Like I said, this is exactly my career that I had in the Air Force, and the chief has similar experiences where there’s always another thing to learn. And so we’re working through that now. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of just kind of the numbers on the personnel side of, you know, someone’s still gotta be on the console up at Thule manning the radar. And so we gotta do the operational mission but then be able to pull them out for training as much as we can over and over and over.
Raaberg: Generals, for the audience, I think it’s time for us to look into your Rolodex and see what’s on your speed dial or your telephone, because you must be talking to other air and space commanders out in the field, perhaps even the combatant commanders. So who do you talk to to help inform your command’s direction?
Webb: On my side, I’d say it’s principally the MAJCOM commanders. I wouldn’t say that we don’t talk to the COCOMs but, in a lot of ways, you know, the MAJCOM commanders—depending on who we’re talking about—are the component commanders themselves from an air perspective. There’s all kinds of areas that we delve into from, you know, which has kind of been one area, which is kind of wheelhouse for AETC, and has been for a number of years is how do you modernize modern learning methods from, you know, kind of 1970s-style to with technology today? That’s an area. But the bottom line—and the one that I won’t come off of in my realm, and which I think really resonates with our MAJCOM commanders—is quality.
You know, it’s very easy to get into a discussion on production. I mean, it is. This is a production engine at the end of the day in AETC. And it’s very easy to get sucked into the, you know, meet that number. And maybe it’s my background, I don’t know, but and it may sound cliche-ish, but job one is still quality. So it’s way more important to me if I’m going to stand in front of the secretary or the chief and say, ‘We didn’t make a number’ or ‘We have a crappy product,’ I’d way rather be in the position of, ‘We didn’t make that number, but here’s the feedback from the field. It’s a quality product.’ And that for me is is, as cliche-ridden as it may sound, is job one.
Raaberg: Thank you.
Bratton: Yeah, you know, we’re blessed to have a lot of help from the Air Force. And so the counterpart organizations for sure Gen. Webb, Gen. Tullos, Gen. Edmondson at 2nd Air Force, give us a lot of help. Gen. Sears and the AFOTEC team down at Kirtland, and then Gen. Cunningham and the Warfare Center are kind of the counterpart organizations on the Air Force. So spend a lot of time talking to all three of them. The test center folks at Edwards as well.
We’re talking to the other services, too, though. So TRADOC, Army Futures, little bit Army Recruiting Command to understand how do they do things. Chief’s headed out to talk to the Coast Guard. You know, scale-wise, they’re a little bit closer to us to understand how they do things, especially in the training pipeline in the kind of awarding of what we call an initial skills training or AFSC awarding schools, and see how they do those things so we can bring in some ideas from others, in addition to our teammates on the Air Force side.
So that for sure is the Rolodex. Lots of help from the operational side of the Space Force and SpOC with Gen. Whiting. And of course, if you know Gen. Burt, she is a force to be reckoned with and helps me every day with ideas and thoughts. And she’s been working this training business a long time, so I get a lot of help from her specifically. So that’s kind of the Rolodex of helpers.
And then I’d say in the build-out of the range, maybe our most significant activity is sort from scratch is the build-out of the, we call it the National Space Test and Training Complex—the NSTTC—sort of like the NTTR would be the equivalent out at Nellis. And as we think that through, and that is a lot of industry help coming in for that. And so we’re working with industry on ideas. How do we think about this? What can we do live? What makes sense to do digital and simulation with our industry partners?
Raaberg: Fellas, let’s take a step back now and talk about training, especially in an era of autonomy, artificial reality and breakthrough technologies. It seems to me, at least, to be getting pretty complicated, especially after a recruit puts on a uniform and has just learned how to march. Are you training to a certain concept? And then I’m gonna have a follow-up question that’s going to be more in the area of your thoughts about immersive experience or immersive training. Sir?
Webb: Yeah, so the good news on this is that while, you know, us here on the stage are at best digital immigrants, the people that are joining our services are natives. And so, a lot of this conceptually, we have to be paying attention to how this is being received and really being responsive to how Airmen—in my case—that are entering the service today think and how they learn. And it is in a continuous fashion. And so these immersive technologies are definitely important. I think, for instance, Wi-Fi, today, in the United States Air Force is, is a utility, just like electricity and running water are a utility. It’s easy to say. It’s expensive. So it’s a little bit harder to do, but fundamentally, this is a necessary item. And it’s very useful in continuing the process of being in a situation where you are a continual learner.
Now, we have we have a number of programs inside AETC that have fundamentally reshaped how we teach and learn, like Pilot Training Next, which has grown into you Pilot Training Transformation. And also on the technical side, Tech Training Transformation. But and so we see instances of where you can have AI and big data and virtual reality that are very helpful. Sometimes it’s blended together. Sometimes it’s in a mixed situation. And we’re experimenting, but it’s very helpful.
And it’s not just for technical things. Air University, for instance, has a course that’s a massive hit with the Air Force called Leadership Development course. And we use avatars to be able to teach leadership situations. And you may kind of be skeptical unless you’ve run through it, to where avatars that are responding and reacting to situations project a right mentality that you don’t get when it’s obvious that you’re role playing with live people. So there are a lot of really cutting-edge areas that we’ve seen a lot of fruit of the labor. So technology has been very beneficial. And we’re gonna continue to be on the vanguard of that for the Air Force.
Raaberg: I can’t wait to hear your answer, Gen. Bratton.
Bratton: I tell you, we were, I was at the Air Force modeling agency just two days ago. And they had a cockpit with VR goggles there. And they put me right, I was in T-6 in their pattern at Randolph and crashed it. So, you know, sorry about that. It was a pretty incredible capability. I mean, to put that on and see all the building, there’s ATC headquarters that were just in a couple weeks ago. That it goes right back to the space domain where Guardians will all, you know, never go into the domain, that is the way to access it for sure.
Now, how do we think about that? And what makes it you know, not a gimmick, and actual hitting training objectives and value-added in training is the important piece to work through. Because, you know, it’ll be cool to put VR goggles on and be in the space domain, you know, make it dark and cold for them and work through that. But what is the training objective we’re getting after? How does that lead to development of tactics, techniques and procedures? I think we’ve got to really think that through before we just go all-in on that. But absolutely the future, I think, for space training.
Raaberg: We’ve got about four minutes remaining. And I’d really like to bring this all together now but more in a real-world perspective. So really, I’m sure you both are keenly evaluating both training and readiness impact as a result of the most recent withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and as Russia’s war against Ukraine intensifies. You know, that’s serious business for somebody who’s beginning their service. So, you know, essentially, how do you now grasp that diversity of thinking that’s out there in your command as a result of events going on now?
Webb: Yeah, there’s a lot. I’ll try to keep this concise because current events of the last few months, whether it’s the Afghan situation with evacuees or ongoing missions now—really drive home for me the importance of the human domain, the Airmen, the Guardian. And so I’m not joking when I say the asymmetric advantage is how we as Americans, and we in the Air Force—the Department of the Air Force—grow our Airmen and Guardians. There are allies that look at the United States of America and go ‘professionalized NCO Corps is the difference in what we got.’ Because we have allies that have officers and conscripts and nothing in between. And the fundamental difference they see is the professionalized NCO Corps. I would add that it’s a professionalized NCO Corps and the midcareer officers that are the fundamental game-changers. And you have to look no further than current events to recognize that the human domain—people—make a fundamental difference. OK? I don’t have to get into specifics; you know exactly what I’m talking about. Leadership still matters. Being well led is very, very important. This is why I’ve loved being in AETC because it’s about at the end of the day, the people—the Airmen and the Guardians—and this is the asymmetric advantage.”
Raaberg: Governor? Final word, please.
Bratton: Yes, sir. Thanks, I’ll tell you that the Air Force has prepared me, over and over again, for all the challenges throughout my career. You know, from time in Baghdad as a space operator, with 50,000 Army folks around me, I was well prepared for all those things, because of the training, education, PME, advanced training that I’d received and felt comfortable that I could contribute to the fight. We owe that to all of our Guardians, that when they come into conflict in the space domain, when they’re up against an adversary—whether in low-Earth orbit or out at geosynchronous—that they’re prepared for that. You know, those first 10 sorties are under their belt, that they’ve got the education and training that they need. And this move to orbital warfare to threats on orbit, that is very different than what I grew up with as a space operator.
We have to up our game a little bit on the space side to make sure that they’re not in a position where they’re facing an adversary and don’t feel that they’re ready for it. And so I think there’s things that we’re doing right now, there’s things that were started before the Space Force that we’re going to accelerate on, especially in the advanced training, the on-orbit activity. But I think laying that foundation and then reinforcing it, reinforcing it, reinforcing it—throughout a career—is what we’re all about, and we’re getting after it every day. We’re getting after it, quite frankly, with a lot of help from the teammates in AETC and other places. So, thanks, y’all. Thanks for the time today. Really appreciate it.
Raaberg: Yeah, Gen. Webb, Gen. Bratton, boy—what an insightful panel. All I felt was one team, one fight. So thank you on my behalf and on behalf of the Air Force Association. Just so everybody knows in lieu of speaker gifts, the Air Force Association made a donation to allow additional Guardians and Airmen to attend last night’s barbecue. So thank you. Our final Air Force Association session, the award ceremony, and Spark Tank event—which you do not wish to miss—is taking place at 11:20 in the big ballroom, the Gatlin Room. So come join us. And, again, big round of applause for our two leaders up front.