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An Air Force for Tomorrow
Prepared Remarks of Sheila E. Widnall, secretary of the Air Force, National Press Club, Washington, D.C. , Friday, June 14, 1996

Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 55-- An Air Force for Tomorrow The Air Force is smaller and has new missions today, but it's adapting revolutionary technologies, streamlining business practices and improving efficiency in every aspect of its operations.


Volume 11, Number 55

An Air Force for Tomorrow

Prepared remarks by Sheila E. Widnall, secretary of the Air Force, to the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., June 14, 1996.

I'm honored to be here at one of the most distinguished forums in the nation. Wait a minute! This is the National Press Club?!? I thought it was the National CHESS Club!!!

Oh well, ... I guess you folks might be interested in what I was going to say to a bunch of chess geeks. Although I'm a bit worried about the intellectual level of my remarks.

Actually, I'm pretty impressed as I look out over the audience. I've never seen more than 50 journalists wearing coats and pants that match. So, I guess you're up to it.

Today I'll describe to you an Air Force that represents the best America has to offer, an Air Force involved in dramatic successes and less heralded, yet extremely important humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, an Air Force that is fully engaged in the present, and thinking hard about the future.

I'd like to use a chess analogy to help explain our situation. Without getting overly involved in the comparison, we can draw some parallels: Each move has a current objective, as well as a role in future operations. Each piece has visible, as well as invisible capabilities. The players range from kings to pawns, and the playing field is a checkerboard of possibilities, with checkmate occurring from just about anywhere.

Let's first take a look at the situation which comprises today's international security environment. No longer are there simply two kings on the board. In fact, the variety of threats that we must deal with, plan for, and counter now shape an AF [Air Force] that is far from the one which waged the Cold War. We're smaller. We've stepped up to new missions. We're adapting revolutionary technologies, and we're supporting all these changes by streamlining our business practices and improving efficiency in every aspect of our operations.

Let us look at some of our more visible strengths. The air and space capabilities we offer the national command authorities are in higher demand than ever. Our long range bombers can launch from the U.S. and reach any point on the globe with precise, lethal strikes in 20 hours. Our versatile fighters provide the secure air umbrella in which to conduct operations that Americans have grown to expect. And our air mobility fleet enables us to respond to a full range of contingencies--from airlifting troops and equipment during a crisis to delivering supplies after a national disaster.

I'd like to take a few minutes to recount some recent successes and some ongoing international operations that rely on our current abilities and illustrate the importance of our nation's leadership around the globe.

As everyone here is aware, the Air Force changed the course of history in a traditionally military way last September when we led a precise, vigorous air campaign that finally altered the series of events in Bosnia. Besides breaking the cycle of violence that had fed that three-year war, Operation Deliberate Force also gave us a hint of what combat will look like in the 21st century.

For instance, while only 9 percent of all munitions used in Desert Storm were precision guided, in Bosnia, 98 percent of munitions dropped by U.S. forces were precision guided. Our chess analogy is particularly useful to explain what this means for the changing nature of warfare. Today, precision weapons have made it possible to take any piece on any square of the chessboard with no collateral damage to adjacent squares.

If you look at bomb damage photographs from Bosnia, they bear no resemblance to photos of the past, where the target, often undamaged, was surrounded by craters. The photos from Bosnia typically show one crater where the target used to be, with virtually no collateral damage.

Nothing is yet assured in Bosnia, of course. But by joining the use of force to diplomacy, we have transformed a situation some considered hopeless into one in which rebuilding, reconciliation, and justice are all possible.

One could argue that in the historic sense, America has no vital interest in the Balkans. But in a world connected by an instantaneous electronic nervous system, where images of anger, hatred and death on one side of the world immediately inflame similar passions half a world away, vital interest must be interpreted differently. It is in all nations' interest that such destructive passions be dampened.

It's obvious that no border can shield us from these and other dangers. Serious threats such as terrorism, proliferation, crime and damage to the environment abound. Yet the end of the Cold War has also given us an unprecedented opportunity to shape a more secure world in which American interests and ideals can thrive. Our strength is a blessing, not a burden, and we must use it wisely -- not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of people around the world who seek to build a better life.

Over the past months I have had the privilege of traveling around the world to visit our forces operating in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East. There are very few common elements across those areas. But one very clear thread running through the tapestry of the globe is the role that America plays in bringing stability to these widespread regions -- and the role that the Air Force plays in that historic effort.

Last summer, for example, I visited Central Europe to see for myself the movements in those nations with the end of the Cold War. We visited Prague, Budapest, Bucharest and Warsaw. And while each nation has its unique problems and opportunities, everywhere we found people wrestling with the fundamental questions that we here have faced for so long:


  • Of the role of the military in a democratic society;
  • Of the proper role of a parliament in regulating a national military, and in allocating resources between domestic and security requirements; and
  • Of the role of the media in shaping the public opinion that is so fundamental to sustaining an effective military force.

Everywhere we found the same yearning for integration with the West, not just to join NATO and get a security guarantee, but to join the West economically and politically and rejoin the West culturally, though in their hearts it was clear that they thought they had never left.

On the way, we spoke with the Czech minister of defense, who mentioned that his deepest regret as he led the drawdown and restructuring of the Czech military was that he had not paid enough attention to informing the public and the people in the military about what was going on. He had never been in a system that demanded public awareness of such issues.

We spoke with a base commander in Pardubice, in the Czech Republic, who briefed us on the new sets of issues he now spent his time on day-to-day -- environmental issues, noise complaints, meeting with the local politicians and media. I should note that although he was very happy with the ongoing transformation of his country, there were parts of this transformation that he could have happily done without.

I sat in a garden eating lunch with the commander of the Romanian Air Force, Gen. [Ion] Sandulescu, and heard him describe the years under Soviet domination and the sacrifices of the Romanian people and their feeling that they are part of the West, that they must be part of the West.

I met with members of our military liaison teams, in many cases reservists who have been called up and sent to these partner nations. In many countries these military liaison teams work directly out of their hosts' ministries of defense and see the senior staff daily.

And I met with Polish officials who desperately want to buy our equipment, not just because it works -- and they know it does -- but because it brings with it a large measure of integration with the West, and more to the point, with America. Like everyone through that region, they spent long dark decades wondering when the Americans would come. Now we are there, in ever-increasing numbers. In fact, those same Polish officials were also willing to drive a hard bargain on co-production of that equipment. So they have come a long way.

In all these transformations the Air Force has played a major role, not merely in exercising with these nations, in working with them on operations, but also in patient instruction on such basic elements as constructing a military legal system and a promotion system based on merit. During that trip I talked with our defense adviser to our mission at NATO headquarters, Catherine Kelleher. She commented on how the Air Force's long tradition of focusing on getting the right people in, of motivating and training them and ensuring that they have the opportunity to contribute to the utmost of their capabilities, holds powerful attraction for these states as they go about such fundamental tasks as creating a professional NCO [noncommissioned officer] Corps. They look to us as a model.

In the Middle East, American leadership is also indispensable. Several weeks ago, I returned from a trip to Turkey and Israel, where I spoke with senior officials, visited Provide Comfort [relief operation to Kurds in northern Iraq] and Incirlik AB [Air Base, Turkey], and viewed Israeli operations from the perspective of our close relationship.

Over the past few years, in large part because of steadfast involvement on the part of America, we have moved toward a comprehensive peace between Israel and its immediate neighbors, and indeed with the entire Arab world. That peace remains a realistic prospect though certainly it will take much effort, much patience and much wisdom before we reach the success that is now visible.

We're continuing our efforts to resolve conflicts and build security in other regions. We will strengthen the foundations of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific Region by deepening our security cooperation with our treaty allies, and through our participation in the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Regional Forum. Our bases there provide the powerful message that we are committed to our Asian partners. And our daily activities and training exercises with our allies underscore our nation's commitment to peace and to involvement in that region.

Besides our obvious historic strengths, we're also working on a wide variety of invisible, behind-the-scenes capabilities that allow us to ensure information dominance. As we speak, our space systems high overhead are providing this nation unmatched and indispensable global awareness and connectivity.

Imagine how you could control the game if you could see all the pieces on the board, but your opponent could only see his major players, plus a few of your pawns. A number of new systems are helping us see all the pieces -- Joint STARS [Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System] and unmanned aerial vehicles like the Predator, for example. From the outside, JSTARS looks like an ordinary Boeing 707 -- one you might expect in some commercial air cargo fleets. But inside, the aircraft is packed with a powerful surveillance, targeting and battle management system, and we've used these capabilities to great advantage in the Balkans.

A month ago, I took a trip to Bosnia and Italy because I wanted to see all this for myself. At Vicenza [Italy], I visited the command center where Gen. Mike Ryan [U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander] directed the very complex, multinational air operation taking place there.

I saw the systems that we use to display real-time the air picture, both friendly and enemy. I saw the intelligence cell in a room adjoining his command center. I saw information dominance in action. I watched our commanders seeing the action on a real-time overhead projection of the aerial battlefield, retasking our forces to get the mission done, adjusting our intel [intelligence] assets to get the right picture as the action unfolded. I saw us gather data and distribute it in minutes throughout the NATO chain of command -- a process that only a few years ago would have taken weeks, not minutes.

All of that technology, in the end, was there to give the battle commander the picture he needs to make the right decision and the connectivity he needs to get that decision carried out in accordance with his vision.

In years past we have spent billions on making sure our lethal technology would work. We built the best aircraft on earth -- witness the F-15 [Eagle], with its unmatched aerodynamics, its avionics and its weaponry. This latest generation in command and control, though, helps the battle commander get the right number of F-15s to the right place at the right time. We are making the investment in the human dimension to create the same sort of superiority that we have long enjoyed in our equipment.

Nor is this investment focused solely on our commanders. During my visit to Aviano [Air Base, Italy], I talked with some of the pilots who had participated in [Operation] Deliberate Force last summer. They demonstrated the Powerscene [simulator] system that had formed such an important part of their capabilities during that remarkable air campaign. These pilots, assigned a mission tasking, had the capability to sit in a room at the back of the wing headquarters at Aviano and practice flying the mission on a simulator that visually displayed the Bosnian terrain they would be operating over -- to a resolution of one meter.

These pilots could practice their missions, get comfortable with the visual landmarks and threats in the target area, try different tactics and approaches, and in doing so, eliminate some of the nasty surprises that are a fundamental feature of combat. They marveled at the realism of that simulator, how they got so involved in the mission there, firmly on terra firma, that they finished the training period tired and with sweaty palms. They all came away from this experience with a keen understanding of that old adage -- "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war."

Certainly that technology is impressive. But its strategic impact was even more so. The air operation last fall was militarily robust, but it was politically fragile. At the first report of civilian casualties or collateral damage, the entire operation could have been at serious risk.

The mission preparation that our new information technologies enabled us to employ was, in large part, responsible for the fact that the report of civilian casualties never came, and we were able to press the campaign through to completion. A lot of things had to go right for our air operation to create the conditions for the peace which has now settled over that land. Technologies such as Powerscene played a major role in ensuring that they did exactly that.

In that visit to Aviano and Vicenza I saw the leading edge of today's art of the possible. At another location this spring, I saw the future. I caught a glimpse of the next generation and the possibilities that lie before us -- to be seized if we have the vision and the energy.

I hosted the other service secretaries in a conference focusing on modeling and simulation. We flew down to the Joint Training and Simulation Center at U.S. Atlantic Command, near Langley [Air Force Base, Va.]. We toured the facilities they have established there, just over the past few months. They have built a battle lab for training our joint force commanders and their staffs -- so that future Mike Ryans will have had a chance to explore their options, see the logical consequences of their decisions, and get a look at how an intelligent adversary might respond to various decisions.

At that command center we can conduct an exercise integrating real decision makers working against a simulated enemy force -- and real aircraft flown on training ranges thousands of miles away against simulated adversaries -- using modeled weaponry so we can get a look at how these new weapons will affect our capabilities.

From that command center, as we exercise, we can command an Aegis cruiser in the Mediterranean -- or a Patriot battery in Korea -- or an AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] in Southwest Asia -- or if we wish, all at the same time.

We have just begun to work with these capabilities, and to understand their potential. One thing I can confidently predict, though, is that the potential we don't yet see will be at least as important as the payoffs we realize today. The law of unintended consequences is alive and well.

So while we're busily engaged in the present, we're thinking hard about the future. We're doing what we can to use our knowledge today to imagine where we might go tomorrow.

The latest study by our Scientific Advisory Board, New World Vistas, describes some exciting new technical abilities. And we've established a long-range planning group to lay out the paths toward the most promising capabilities. We're trying to face the future in a systematic and broad-based way, working together among all our disciplines to find a clear, coherent course.

At the heart of this transformation, we have the astounding advances in information and communications technology. Our blueprint is a balanced, time-phased modernization program. And as the engine for the process, we're streamlining our business practices and improving efficiency in all aspects of our operations.

Over the past year we have instituted a series of acquisition reform initiatives, the "Lightning Bolts," designed to jump-start the revolution in our acquisition processes. Although this movement is only beginning, we already see tangible benefits. We see weapons systems coming in at a third of their projected costs. We see aircraft modification programs coming in under cost and ahead of schedule, precisely because the Air Force-industry team has taken advantage of this revolution.

Already we have achieved $13B [billion] in cost avoidance, and we intend to go farther. We intend to sweep away the shelves of old regulations and directives, sweep away the paperwork and the adversarial relationships that for so long existed between the Air Force and our partners in industry.

This reform movement is not a "nice to have." It's a pass-fail item. These reforms must succeed. We must free up the resources we need to sustain our modernization programs. We must place these programs on an absolutely solid basis of efficiency. If we fail in these reforms, then we will fail in our efforts to build the capabilities we need to execute our missions. We will fall short of our obligations to this nation and to our people. I can't imagine a more powerful incentive to see these through.

And the capabilities we are developing will ensure that our forces are second to none. Some promising programs deserve special recognition: The first flight of the F-22 is less than a year away. Our Airborne Laser and Joint Strike Fighter programs are off and running.

We are developing a new family of commercial standard expendable launch vehicles to assure the nation affordable access to space in the years ahead. We're beginning to look at expanded uses for unmanned aerial vehicles; and we're working toward a GPS [global positioning system] with greatly increased accuracy.

But, as always, we must look beyond the technology of the weaponry to the people who make it all work. In the end, it's the brains, the ingenuity and the intuition of the chess master who controls the play. In the end, it's the well-trained, high-quality people who make the Air Force what it is today.

People in the Air Force come from all over the United States, from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and traditions. Yet they share a great patriotism, a confidence and hope in our country, and they take an oath to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The oath is an offer of themselves to guarantee the well-being and success of our country. It's a commitment to our nation, and a promise to its people.

We in the Air Force recognize our responsibilities to guard and champion the things that form the wellspring of America's greatness: its natural resources, its technology, its people, and its values. We take these responsibilities seriously and will continue to help steer her toward a future of peace, plenty and progress.

As we undertake this responsibility, we need your help. We cannot succeed without the understanding and support of the American people -- and the people in this room are key to that support. So as we part today, I ask you to reflect on the range of responsibilities that this nation rightly demands of its armed forces. Together we sustained the commitment that has brought the world to this promising point, and together we can build today's Air Force -- the finest the world has ever seen -- into the force that our nation needs in the decades to come.

Thank you. ...


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at