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DoD News Briefing: Air Force Association Annual Meeting

Presenter: Air Force Association Annual Meeting
September 23, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much for the introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, let me first begin by thanking you for inviting me to share this opening kickoff ceremony with you.

I just recently returned from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley. Bob Dole had called me before I departed and asked one favor. He said, "Could you possibly get a check cashed for me while you're out there?" I told him I might have better luck with the Air Force Association.

But I appreciate having the opportunity to speak to you, and also to express my congratulations to you for the tremendous support that you've given the Air Force over the years. The AFA and your staggering 170,000 members have served the Air Force very well, and by linking the service with industry and your strong advocacy of the capabilities of air and space power, you have made an enormous contribution to the Air Force itself.

I'd like to also pay particular tribute to your chair, Gene Smith, whose record of heroism and valor and service to his country is not only an inspiration, but is being continued through his service by his son Rick who's now flying an F-16.

I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that, "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he's braver five minutes longer."

I'm satisfied that if Emerson knew you, he would have altered that to say he's braver six years longer.

Gene, even though our mutual friend Senator Trent Lott tells me to watch out for you because you may be trying to pull a few more F-22s out of his destroyers and LPDs, I'm sure that we're going to work very well together in the coming years.

At the dawn of the century on a windswept dune on the Carolina coast, a rickety structure of wire and wood took flight on gossamer wings and changed the world.

By World War II, the Wright Brothers' revolution in technology had led to a revolution in military affairs. It was a revolution recognized by our nation's leaders when they created the Air Force 50 years ago this week.

This week is a time when America is reflecting upon the enormous debt that our nation owes to the Air Force for five decades of courage and service, so this week is really about saying thank you. Thank you to the C-54 crews who extended a hand of help and hope to the people of Berlin at the dawn of the Cold War; to the Sabre pilots who crossed swords with MIGs over the Yalu River; thank you to our F-4 Phantom pilots who fought a phantom enemy over the jungles of Southeast Asia; to our missile and bomber crews sitting their silent vigil, the fate of humanity resting in their steady hands throughout more than four decades of the Cold War; to our F-117 pilots who eliminated Saddam Hussein's eyes and ears leading to another American triumph over tyranny; and to Major Bryan Knight whose courage and confidence helped avert a much larger disaster yesterday during an air show in Maryland. To watch the film of him waiting until the final moment before ejecting is truly a compliment to the kind of courage and dedication that is exhibited day in and day out by men and women in the Air Force all over the world.

I'd like to thank our fighter/bomber crews over Bosnia, who soared over mountains shrouded in mist to snuff out the embers of war in NATO's first peacekeeping mission on European soil. And to all of our pilots and all of our airmen who keep their wings aloft from the front lines to the flight lines to supply lines -- our debt is incalculable and our gratitude is immense. And to the families of the airmen apparently lost off the coast of Namibia, let us send forth our heartfelt gratitude and sorrow.

The Chinese have a familiar saying. They say if you really wish to drink the water, you have to thank those who dug the well. To those of us who have a deep respect and affection for the Air Force and its history, we offer tribute to names like Billy Mitchell and Hap Arnold and Jimmy Doolittle and Chuck Yeager and others who dug the well and provided the early vision and the leadership as air power grew in dominance.

But there are some more contemporary individuals I'd like to take a moment to single out for their outstanding leadership -- past, present and future.

First, outgoing Secretary Sheila Widnall who returns to the relative calm of academia after four years of dedicated service to the Air Force she clearly loves and is so proud of.

Second, to Rudy DeLeon, whose talents as Air Force Under Secretary were so obvious I had no choice but to promote him. And having Rudy in the top leadership of the Department of Defense is a great benefit, but I know the Air Force misses him.

Also, even though he is now living in the "purple" world, I would be very remiss if I didn't tell you how much I rely upon Joe Ralston every day for his strong leadership and his calm confidence. The Air Force can be truly proud for having produced such an outstanding officer who is such a key part of the leadership in this Department.

And a word of welcome is also in order for both Mike Ryan, who should be confirmed very shortly, and to General Ed Eberhardt, who is here today, already on the job. These two officers represent the next generation of Air Force leaders who are going to carry on the tradition of greatness that the Air Force enjoys.

Finally, I'd like to pay a special tribute to Ron Fogleman. As the Air Force enters a new century, it can do so with confidence because of the vision that General Fogleman had as he charted a course that was both clear and bold. He carried out his responsibilities with pride and principle and we all owe him a great deal of thanks for his service to his country.

Today we're all celebrating history -- what's past. But today is also a time for looking ahead.

Last May I had the privilege of addressing the graduating class of the Air Force Academy. I not only saw the Air Force of the future, I actually touched it. I shook the hands of every one of those 750 freshly minted second lieutenants. And even as the skies during the final ten minutes of the ceremonies opened up and a torrent of rain came down -- I don't think we had any umbrellas available at the time -- but as that torrent of rain came down, I couldn't help but smile because nothing gave me more confidence or comfort as Secretary of Defense or as an American than looking into those bright, shining eyes, taking their firm grips, and knowing that for the next 50 years the Air Force is going to be in the hands of the nation's best.

We are very poor prophets when it comes to trying to predict what the Air Force is going to look like 50 years from now, what it will be able to do, where it will go, how it's going to get there. But no one can doubt that the future of the Air Force and that of air power is bright and, indeed, "boundless."

Two thousand years ago, the world's preeminent symbol of military power was the Roman Legion, led into battle by officers who were clad in crested helmets. Two hundred years ago, naval fleets ruled the seas and in turn, ruled the world. In the 21st Century, it is very likely to be air and space forces that will increasingly become the global symbols of dominant and decisive military power.

We are also on the cusp of another revolution in military affairs -- one of those rare times when a combination of new technology, new tactics and new doctrine combine into a form of warfare that is truly different in kind and not just in degree from what came before; a time when the old rules of warfare are transformed and the dominant global power is that nation that understands the new rules before and better than anyone else.

I believe that this revolution in military affairs is indeed rushing toward us at supersonic speed. Today I want to talk to you about why I believe the United States Air Force is so well positioned to take advantage of this coming revolution.

For the near and mid term, our guide for building our future force is going to be Joint Vision 2010. This Joint Vision 2010 is built upon what is called a "system of systems." It's designed to give our systems total battlespace awareness. It's going to integrate the laptop, the microchip, the microwave, the videocam, the satellite, and the sensor. It's going to collect and distribute a steady flow of information to our forces throughout the battlespace while denying the enemy the ability to do the same. U.S. forces are going to have the mobility to attack enemy weak points throughout the depth and breadth of the battlefield while providing multiple layers of protection against a full spectrum of threat all the way from ballistic missiles to germ warfare -- giving our forces greater freedom of action in all phases of combat.

What these new capabilities mean is that our forces will be able to deploy lighter. They will need fewer weapons platforms and fewer munitions. Our forces will be able to descend on the scene very early in the conflict, take the initiative away from a numerically superior opponent -- getting inside his decision cycle -- and end the battle quickly on our terms.

So to realize this vision we're going to need the so-called leap-ahead technology like the F-22 Raptor which took its first flight last week. The first tactical stealth fighter, the Raptor is going to be nearly invisible. It's agility and advanced avionics will make it nearly invincible. And the Raptor, together with platforms such as the B-2, the Joint Strike Fighter and the Airborne Laser, will combine to allow us not only to defend our own airspace, but to dominate the other side's entire battlespace.

We're going to need the Air Force's JSTARS and satellites and UAVs and even more. And as Alvin Toeffler recently noted at one of your meetings, the Air Force must continue its move from "a brute force to a brain force."

We cannot ignore the fact today that much of the information we depend upon travels through space or is collected from space before it is disseminated to the people who need it on the ground. That's why it's so vitally important that the Air Force continue its evolution from an air and space force into a space and air force.

These technologies, systems and operational concepts that the Air Force is now developing are only glimpses into the future. They are not, and let me repeat this, they are not the culmination of the revolution of military affairs, but just the beginnings. They are the gathering of the pitchforks. It's Thomas Paine who's sharpening his pen. It's the early rumblings of a revolution that will bring about a true transformation in the long term capability 15, 25, 35, or even 50 years from now.

We do not know and we can't know how much of this future will ever materialize. That's not the way that revolutions work. So we have to dare to experiment and be ready to switch courses based on whatever we discover. The technology, the weapons or doctrine that looks like the sure-fire path to the future today might be overtaken or even obsolete 5, 10, or even 15 years from now as this revolution continues to unfold.

If we look back at World War II, it is clear that a revolution in military affairs brought on the advent of modern air power. In the Battle of Britain, the British air fighter defenses prevailed over the numerically superior Luftwaffe, not because simply of new technology like radar, but also because of advanced communications and centralized command and control.

Then in the Pacific, the United States leapt ahead in developing carrier-based warfare, not so much because of the quality of our ships or planes, but because we understood better how to use them, how to put more planes on decks, how to increase the sortie rates.

That's why the six BattleLabs that have been set up by the Air Force are critical to this pursuit of ours, this new revolution. Those BattleLabs are looking everywhere from cyberspace to outer space, not only to identify innovative technologies, but mainly to find out how we can best take advantage of them.

So our vision also recognizes that revolution in military affairs is not just about technology, it's also about people.

Airplanes depreciate and they become obsolete over a period of time. It's just the opposite for our pilots and airmen who gain in value over a period of time. It takes at least 16 years to turn a rookie pilot into a squadron commander or to make an airman into a supervisor, so if we're serious about building a future force that is revolutionary in its capabilities, we really can't afford to neglect these valuable assets of ours, because we need their intellectual firepower to make this revolution a reality.

And that's why I fully support and endorse the Air Force efforts to keep good pilots from leaving too soon, gestures like increased pay and bonuses, a less blistering OPTEMPO, more emphasis on quality of life. And we all know it's not just a question of dollars and cents. Very few pilots leave the military simply on a matter of money -- money is not what motivates them, it's not money for which they will stay.

What's important is letting our people know that we care about their families, letting our families know that we care about them, how much we respect them, value them, and truly care about their future in the Air Force. If we want to keep the best people in the force, we have to do right by that force.

I've been out and I've walked the flight lines in Al Kharj where our pilots and airmen toil away far away from their loved ones, and they're surrounded by nothing but desert and danger. I've looked into the eyes of our pilots who fly out of Aviano and Osan. My first trip as Secretary of Defense was down to Lackland where I saw the recruits being transformed into airmen. I watched some of the parents. I must tell you, it's one of the most remarkable experiences as a parent sitting in the stands and watching the parade go by of these new young recruits. They said, "How did you do this?" How is it possible for you to take my son or daughter in this short period of time and transfer this person into someone who says 'Yes, ma'am', ' Yes, sir'; who has a sense of confidence and dignity about himself or herself, a sense of dedication, patriotism. It is a remarkable transformation that takes place in a very few weeks. So we're doing a lot of things right, notwithstanding, perhaps, some of the criticism we see from time to time.

But I know from firsthand wherever I go, be it in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Gulf states -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, any of the Gulf states -- to Japan where General Eberhardt has come from to take over his new position as Vice Chair of the Air Force, to South Korea. Wherever we go, we see the very finest American citizens who are performing, day in and day out, extraordinary measures on behalf of our country -- most of it going unrecognized by those of us who are safely protected back here in continental United States.

So I know firsthand that the Air Force is filled with some of America's finest citizens and they are guided by some of America's most outstanding leaders who reflect our highest ideals, who find no challenge too high or too hard, and are eager to turn any adversity into opportunity.

It's been written that humankind's age-old fascination with flight is a "physical reflection of what we long to return to. We all fly in our dreams, and when we awake, we long for that inner freedom."

Well this week and every week let us say thank you to each and every member of our Air Force team, because they do their work not only to attain an inner freedom, but to defend our very freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me once again thank you for inviting me to just offer a few comments to all of you who spend so much of your time and effort supporting the AFA and what the AFA represents. We're going through some difficult times in the military as far as self-examination is concerned, and we ought to welcome that. Any country as strong as ours can afford to indulge in self-examination, indeed self-criticism. That's not a mark of weakness, that's a mark of strength. And every time we look into ourselves and find any deficiencies, we're able to overcome them. That has been the history of the American military.

That's why I can proudly stand and say as your Secretary of Defense that every other nation looks to us with admiration and they look to us with envy because we have the best and the brightest military in the history of the world. It's due to the contribution, the sacrifice, the dedication, and the patriotism of those of you who are here and who continue to support the finest Air Force in the world.

Thank you very much.