Fanning: Air Force Must Innovate to Prosper
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2013 Acting Air Force Secretary Eric K. Fanning set the tone for the Air Force Association’s 2013 Air and Space Conference today by stressing the need for innovation and agility as the service looks to the future.
Fanning said that interwar eras historically have rewarded services that pushed innovation and punished those that stagnated.
“And make no mistake about it, we are in a classic interwar defense budget drawdown even before the war ends,” he said at the opening presentation here.
The air arm always has been a military innovator, Fanning said. He looked to history and cited as examples the service championing air-to-air refueling, the B-17 Flying Fortress, forward air controllers and today’s remotely piloted aircraft.
But with funding cuts the new norm for the military, Fanning highlighted this reality by quoting from Winston Churchill, British prime minister during World War II: “Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think.”
The other services rely upon the Air Force for logistics, space and combat support, the acting service secretary noted.
“As I look at the strategic environment, I see a future where the speed of information sharing increases exponentially and the global community becomes more international and interconnected,” Fanning said.
This will increase reliance upon attributes the Air Force already possesses: speed, range, flexibility, innovation, precision and resilience, he said.
“In a time of drastically shrinking resources, we must capitalize on a future that, in my view, increasingly has an airpower bias,” Fanning added.
The U.S. Air Force is the best air service the world has known, he said, but for it to stay that way, officials need to ask the right questions.
“Are we spending more and more money to gain only marginal capabilities in tomorrow’s battlespace?” he asked. “Put another way, because we have been so successful, have we allowed ourselves to only work around the margins of our current structure rather than seeking innovations that will change the very DNA of airpower?”
From these basic questions come others, Fanning said. How does the service change training to capitalize on its current superiority? How does the service change buying equipment to build on its strengths and ensure the taxpayer gets what is needed?
“Where is the next game changer in aerospace and in cyberspace?” he asked. “If we can’t name it off the top of our heads, is that a red flag that we’re not paying attention to strategic innovation? We need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘How are we going to shape an Air Force that is affordable and sustainable over the long-term?’”
The Air Force has the ability to “own the future,” Fanning said.
“We can be the nation’s best option for deterrence, rapid action and increasingly for enduring presence as well,” he added.