With the Air Force Association’s (AFA) Annual Air, Space & Cyber show rapidly approaching, we sat down with AFA’s President, Lt Gen Bruce “Orville” Wright, USAF Ret., to learn about what to expect at this year’s show. Wright spoke to the vital partnership between the Air Force and Space Force and how that partnership supports every other branch of service. Partnership and modernization will be the crux of many conversations being had virtually and in-person during the 2021 Air Space & Cyber Conference.
Here’s what Wright had to share with the Modern Integrated Warfare team preceding the show:
Modern Integrated Warfare (MIW) Editors: What are the key themes and messages to be covered at the 2021 Air Space & Cyber Conference this year?
Bruce “Orville” Wright: The Air Force and Space Force are “one team, one fight,” as Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall says. The leadership is united. Our theme this year is “Air and Space Leadership for our Nation – Today and Tomorrow.” That means these two military services – the only two that are indispensable to the fight in every domain – must remain inextricably linked and mutually supportive. A second clear theme is the imperative motion to modernize and equip our forces for the strategic competition we face with competitors like China, as the pacing threat, and Russia. To deter conflict now and in the future, America needs to present credible military forces with the capacity and capability to counter any adverse action that could threaten America, our allies, or our mutual interests. We’ll hear a lot about that at this event.
MIW Editors: How is the area of C4ISR evolving and what technologies are paving the way for its evolution?
Wright: We’re in the midst of a real revolution in terms of capability when you think about the sensors now available and the emerging capabilities in manned and unmanned systems. The technologies that enable concepts like joint all-domain command and control [JADC2] involve combining incredible leaps in secure communication technology with the power of the commercial cloud. We’re moving from an era of data scarcity to an era of data abundance, and the availability of cloud-scale computing power means we can now begin to put that data to work in real time, and to share it from platform to platform, and from one domain to the next. It’s really transformational.
MIW Editors: How do digital engineering and advanced manufacturing factor into the modern battlespace? What challenges do they address for the warfighter?
Wright: We’re seeing tremendous excitement among both the military and the industrial base in the promise of these technologies. Digital engineering means we can model changes rapidly and predict with accuracy how different design tweaks can affect performance, reliability, and longevity. We don’t have to go through the same scale of testing and prototyping, but instead precisely model using digital twins. That’s huge. Now add that to what we can do with additive manufacturing and other advanced techniques, which can reduce parts count and increase reliability, and you can have a huge impact on reliability. It’s exciting to see what’s happening.
MIW Editors: What are some of the most anticipated developments in the military airspace and aircraft technology? How is industry moving those efforts forward?
Wright: The development of new generations of satellites, small satellites, resilient satellite networks, new ground stations, and new ways to secure communications and protect our space domain dominance are striking. This is really important stuff. In the air, which is just as important, by the way, I think we’re seeing major advances in autonomy, like the loyal wingman concept the Air Force is pursuing through Skyborg, which will create complex problems for an adversary. The sixth-generation fighter capabilities that will come out of NGAD, the Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems, are very promising. And we’re getting closer to first flight for the B-21, the next-generation bomber the Air Force needs. We’re also seeing advances in sensors, propulsion, and in Air Battle Management technologies. This is an industry that doesn’t sit still. These are fast times.
MIW Editors: Anything else you’d like to add?
Wright: Air and Space Power are the bedrocks on which we build our national defense. That’s why I say they’re indispensable. You can’t fight anywhere – land, sea, air, space, cyberspace – without these two incredible services. Look at what we just witnessed as America withdrew from Afghanistan. Wherever you stand on how we got to this point in history, the role and function and professionalism we’ve seen from Airmen and Guardians managing the rescue efforts there were simply phenomenal. No other country on Earth could have done what we just did. You really have to hand it to these young people who risk their lives in service to their country, who sacrifice, and do so much. They’re the best. Everything we do at AFA, and throughout this industry, we do to support them.