Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett virtually addressed Air Force Association 2020 Virtual Air, Space and Cyber conference attendees, Sept. 14.
During her remarks, Barrett discussed the Department of the Air Force’s heritage of advancing technology, and its impact on modern-day readiness. She also took the time to recognize achievements across the Air and Space Forces, and provided insight on the way ahead for Airmen and Space Professionals.
“Less than a month after the Air Force was established, the nascent service launched a tradition of breakthrough technological development with the X-planes,” she said.
The X-plane series laid the groundwork for many of the Air Force’s aircraft today. The X-1, piloted by Charles E. Yeager, broke the sound barrier; the X-7 tested the viability of ramjet engines on anti-aircraft missiles; the X-13 demonstrated the first successful vertical takeoff based on jet thrust alone; and the X-15 launched from a B-52, the first crude hypersonic flight vehicle.
“The X-26 contributed to stealth designs as far back as 1967, and the X-36 provided a tailless fighter jet, which could perform extreme aeronautical feats and influenced today’s fifth generation, advancing cutting edge technology, breaking unprecedented barriers and collaborating interagency with industry,” Barrett said. “This is the 73-year record of achievement on which we continue building.”
Her address focused on the four priorities she identified during February’s Air Warfare Symposium: building the U.S. Space Force, strengthening relationships with allies and partners, growing strong leaders and resilient families, and modernization.
Building Space Force
Within its first year of existence, the Space Force achieved numerous accomplishments, including publishing the United States’ first authoritative space doctrine, increasing data bandwidth in support of emergency medical services to COVID-19 patients, assisting the Air National Guard in fighting the fires in the western United States, and supporting 20 launches by interagency and industry partners — since February’s Air Warfare Symposium.
Additionally, the X-37B spaceplane, a direct descendant of the X-planes, launched its sixth mission May 17. It was awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy for advancing technology that pushes the boundaries of flight and space exploration.
“The Space Force is an agile and fast organization with an entirely new structure, including field commands, deltas and squadrons, removing unnecessary layers,” the secretary said. “America unequivocally depends upon space. The U.S. Space Force stands ready to deter and if necessary defend our interests in this increasingly contested domain.”
Strengthening relationships with allies and partners
Earlier this year, the DAF unveiled its Arctic Strategy which outlined the department’s approach to ensuring the nation’s whole-of-government approach in the Arctic region. Today, Air and Space Professionals are deploying to multiple countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to ensure interoperability, and to support allied and partner nations. Airmen also provided humanitarian aid and medical support to the people of Beirut, Lebanon.
“The Air and Space Forces will enhance future collaboration by expanding security cooperation agreements, by building new shared capabilities in both air and space, by increasing interoperability with the systems of our allies, and by growing relationships through exercises and education,” she said.
Growing strong leaders and resilient families
The DAF increased professional military education opportunities for pregnant and postpartum women and introduced more family friendly assignments for parents with child custody orders.
Although Barrett recognizes that there is more to be done, she also highlighted the DAF’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. Some of these improvements include updated dress and appearance regulations, modified grooming requirements, authorized diacritical markings like accents and hyphens and increased Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarships at historically black colleges and universities, as well as Hispanic serving institutions.
“Our Air and Space Professionals and the families who stand by them are our greatest asset and our future,” Barrett said. “We are committed to cultivating a culture of trust, respect, and inclusivity and developing leaders to overcome the demands of the future. We’re developing new processes that reveal and eliminate racism and unconscious bias.”
She said the DAF is also improving access to childcare, upgrading the quality of the Exceptional Family Member Program, and redesigning leadership development and talent management.
“Your U.S. Air Force and Space Force have been on the move and just as Airmen broke barriers with X- airplanes, we continue advancing.” Barrett said.
While the first three priorities support the National Defense Strategy, modernizing the Air and Space Forces will allow the DAF to execute its mission to defend the nation and its allies.
Programs such as AFWERX, whose mission is to foster a culture of innovation within the DAF, was named one of Fast Company’s 100 best workplaces for innovators in the country.
Additionally, the department exercised four new congressional authorities, reducing acquisition timelines by an aggregate of 114 years.
“Potential adversaries are investing in air, space and cyber technologies with asymmetric advantages, including hypersonic AI-enabled weapons, modern day X-plane equivalents, correspondingly,” Barrett said.
The DAF will continue moving into the future with the use of digital engineering to lower development costs, solve problems at a faster rate and offer industry startups the opportunity to contribute to national defense.
Modernization will also take another step into the future with a new weapon system designator: The digital eSeries. Qualified aircraft, satellites and more which are digitally engineered will receive the e-prefix. Unlike previous Air Force and Space Force acquisition efforts, the digital eSeries acquisition program provides the Services with a fully-connected, end-to-end virtual environment that is an almost perfect replica of what the physical weapon system will be. This brings unprecedented speed and agility to the Department’s ability to compete in the technology battlespace by enabling thousands, even millions, of virtual iterations at machine speeds to design the best possible system – but only build the single, best design. The first to receive the new eSeries designator is the eT-7A Red Hawk, which was designed, built and tested using this digitally designed approach.
“The eT-7A is just the first of our vision of a long line of ePlanes and eSatellites. For 73 years, the entire history of the Air Force, X-planes have represented technological innovation. Today, the ePlane and eSat will join them in making history, and ensuring Airmen and Space Professionals have modern tools to protect our nation,” Barrett explained. “Ladies and gentlemen, your Air and Space Forces are on the move to make America stronger, our Homeland safer, and our alliances and partners enduring.”