SAN ANTONIO, March 29, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- According to U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the U.S. military's technological superiority is being challenged in ways the nation never experienced before. "We can't take these developments for granted. If we do, it could put American lives at risk in the not-too-distant future," Secretary James stated.
James isn't alone in her evaluation of U.S. military capabilities; Lt. Gen. James M. Holmes, USAF, shares much the same assessment not only in the technology realm but also in traditional warfare. "For 25 years, we could pretty much assume that we were going to be totally superior to anybody that we might engage against—that it wasn't a question of whether we were going to win or not—it was how long it was going to take us to achieve our objectives," said Gen. Holmes, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements for the Air Force.
But this may no longer be the case, he pointed out. For example, Russia's recent military actions coupled with China's military buildup have demonstrated that peer competitors to the United States have developed technologies and new ways to operate that fall just below the threshold of a full-on U.S. military response, the general noted.
The two leaders and dozens of other military and industry experts shared their views on this topic at the AFCEA International TechNet Air symposium in San Antonio last week. Discussions at the event focused on the air, space and cyber domains with a side order of what the United States needs to do to regain its superiority in these environments.
As with other government programs, it's no secret that one of the top priorities is funding. Today, the Air Force spends roughly $4 billion on cyber, with the majority of the money spent on operating the network.
"Regrettably, the bulk of our budget is not spent on defending the network or shoring core missions from cyber attacks, or on developing the types of offensive strategies we are going to need increasingly in the future," James said. "We need to shift resources from enterprise systems to warfighting systems." The service has allocated $672 million in fiscal year 2017 to advance both defensive and offensive initiatives, she said.
One approach the Air Force is taking to fill the gap is restructuring the active duty work force and increasing its reliance on industry. Maj. Gen. Jerry D. Harris Jr., USAF, vice commander of the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, acknowledged that the approach is not without challenges. "Today, we have a manpower shortfall defending our core missions in cyber. About 85 percent defend the Air Force network. [A reorganization] will hopefully move some of that manpower of defending systems closer to the weapons systems. How we will get there is a challenge," the general stated.
James understands that tackling these challenges will require changes in other areas as well. She delivered the quintessential music to the ears of a conference center packed with industry representatives: "Because the world of cyber changes so quickly, we have got to speed up our acquisition processes," she said, her words met by a few "amens" from attendees. "We have an industrial era acquisition process while we're trying to compete in an agile digital world."
As part of attaining the shorter-cycle procurement goal, the Air Force recently launched Bending the Cost Curve, a series of initiatives that complements the overall U.S. Defense Department's Better Buying Power program. The service is tapping open systems architecture, or OSA, specifically designed to accelerate the acquisition process by using congressional special authority to create novel business structures otherwise not possible under the standard regulations, James said.
"I'm not suggesting that we could use such a vehicle to build the next generation aircraft, but I do believe that for smaller types of technology insertions and enterprise cyber capabilities, this is the type of direction we need to move.
"We can't entirely ever let go on network operations, obviously, because our mission depends on it," James said. "But somehow, we have to do better. I'm convinced that leveraging the private sector is part of the key."
Additional coverage of TechNet Air 2016 is available online.
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SOURCE AFCEA International