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Air Force Must Expand Technical Edge, Secretary Nominee Says

Sept. 12, 2019 | BY Terri Moon Cronk
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The Senate Armed Services Committee profoundly understands the threats great-power competition presents to U.S. interests as properly prioritized in the National Defense Strategy, the president's choice to serve as the next Air Force secretary said at a committee hearing considering her nomination.

Barbara M. Barrett is a pilot who served as U.S. ambassador to Finland during President George W. Bush's administration.

"China and Russia continually challenge free and open international order, impose their authoritarian model beyond their borders and attempt to undermine long-standing alliances," Barrett told the committee.

A recent independent, bipartisan strategy commission appointed by Congress concluded that the Air Force will be at the forefront of any future conflict, she added. 

An Air Force pilot watches as his plane approaches another military aircraft.
Unique Perspective
Air Force Capt. Benjamin Aiken approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker during an aerial refueling sortie for Exercise Mobility Guardian at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Sept. 10, 2019. Mobility Guardian provides airmen with the training to deliver a more rapid global response.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Larry Reid Jr.
VIRIN: 190910-F-KA253-0165

"We cannot afford to lose our competitive edge. If confirmed, I would work with Congress and the administration to build upon our manpower resources to meet our national defense needs. The Air Force must not only retain its technical edge over potential adversaries, but we must expand it," Barrett emphasized.

If confirmed, she said, she will continue investments in modernization and advanced capabilities to better equip U.S. airmen so they can prevail in the high-end fight. 

"While attending to readiness, modernization and reform, I will also work closely with our allies and deepen global partnerships," she said.

Slide used for virtual reality training program on aircraft procedures.
Aircraft Slide
Air Force Capt. Drew Pagenkopf, left, tactics flight commander, and Capt. Jose Hinojosa, right, C-5 evaluator aircraft commander, both with the 22nd Airlift Squadron, watch as Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Robinson, 22nd Airlift Squadron loadmaster evaluator, uses a C-5M Super Galaxy emergency escape slide at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 6, 2019. Robinson wore a camera to record footage of the process to be used to develop a virtual reality training program on aircraft procedures.
Photo By: Heide Couch, Air Force
VIRIN: 190906-F-RU983-0293C

And standing up the Space Force would be a key imperative, Barrett said. "I believe we need a Space Force," she told the senators. "In fact, in my opinion, a domain-specific service organized to train and equip space forces is overdue."

Most Americans use space before having their first cup of coffee in the morning, she pointed out. "Space controls our electricity, our water, our financial transactions and of course, navigation, information and communication," Barrett noted. "While space is ubiquitous, it is also invisible, and often underappreciated."

A test flight is launched.
Test Launch
An Ascent Abort-2 test flight launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., July 2, 2019. The mission, supported by the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, was to test the launch abort system aboard NASA's Orion capsule so astronauts will be kept safe if an anomaly occurs during the return to Earth from space.
Photo By: James Rainier, Air Force
VIRIN: 190702-F-UT715-1004C

U.S. national power depends upon space, and its potential adversaries know it, she said, adding that the United States must be prepared to defend critical space assets, increase the resilience of its space enterprise and be prepared to fight and win should deterrence fail.

"Finally, as we focus on organizing, training and equipping for combat, we cannot ignore the readiness challenges close to home," Barrett said. The nation must support its airmen by addressing suicides, sexual assault, housing and quality of life, she added.

"Much work has been done to address these serious issues, and if confirmed, I would support and fortify those efforts," the Air Force secretary nominee said. 

Workers on roof of military housing.
Roof Repair
Construction workers replace the shingles on roofs at the Tierra Vista Communities at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., July 8, 2019. The project is meant to repair damage from a hailstorm in 2018 and provide a longer lifespan for houses.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely
VIRIN: 190708-F-UR189-1002C

Barrett said she looks forward to leading the nation's airmen if confirmed.

"Most Americans tuck their kids in bed at night without a thought about foreign threat, because brave men and women in uniform stand ready," she told the Senate panel. "It is because of their sacrifices that we all sleep well. As an aviator, I have a deep love and respect for the Air Force and the men and women — uniformed and civilian — who serve, and their families."