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AFA President Larry Spencer, left, introduces senior Air Force leadership on the panel: Today's Air Force-Senior Leader Perspectives, at the Air Force Association's Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 19, 2018, at the Gaylord National Convention Center, National Harbor, Md. Photo by Mike Tsukamoto, Air Force Magazine.

​The Air Force Association’s 2018 Air, Space & Cyber Conference was the largest one yet, with nearly 12,000 attendants and 33 conference sessions. Here’s what you need to know.


T-6 Crashes in Texas, Pilots Eject Safely

JBSA-Randolph, Texas, grounded T-6A flight operations after a Tuesday crash near the base. Two pilots were able to eject. At about 4 p.m. Tuesday, a T-6A Texan II assigned to the 12th Flying Training Wing crashed near the Rolling Oaks Mall near the base. The pilots were taken to the Randolph Medical Clinic with minor injuries and were evaluated and released. The wing established an interim safety board to preserve evidence until a formal safety board is established and can investigate the crash. The wing canceled T-6A flights at the base, with operations to be reviewed over the coming days, according to a 12th FTW release. “We are grateful to the community and the first responders who rushed to help our airmen at the site of the crash,” 12th FTW Commander Col. Mark Robinson said in the release. Tuesday’s crash is the latest incident in a T-6A fleet that has been faced with recurring problems with its on-board oxygen generating system. Those problems led to a fleetwide stand down earlier this year, which had significant impact on Air Education and Training Command’s output of trained pilots. While it is too early to rule out specific causes, there are “initial indications” that give reason to believe that the OBOGS system was not a factor in the crash, according to the release. Speaking to reporters at ASC18 on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast said safety investigation board should complete its study of the OBOGS issues, saying the severity of the hypoxia-related incidents is actually “very, very low.” He called the multiple hypoxia-related incidents “extreme outliers,” yet he acknowledged that USAF’s “responsibility is to know what’s going on with the physics here and [make] sure we’re doing everything in our power to have safe aircraft for our airmen to train in.” —Brian Everstine and Amy McCullough


Space Force to Start Small, With Most Resources on Developing

The forthcoming Space Force will need to start small--limited headquarters, limited red tape, and a large focus on accomplishing the mission by “doing no harm” to how the Air Force has handled the domain, the Pentagon’s number two civilian said Wednesday. The creation of the department will rely on the “incredible ingenuity and a good amount of the blood, sweat, and tears of a generation of airmen,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.


Multi-Domain Operations Similar to Current Integrated Operations, Hyten Says

The head of US Strategic Command Wednesday described the challenges of multi-domain operations as unique only because with the addition of cyber and space warfare they go beyond previously existing threats handled by integrated air, land, and sea operations. "It's the same problem," Gen. John E. Hyten said, "we just haven't done it, so we have to step forward and figure out how to walk into that problem." He said STRATCOM will use the planned establishment of a unified US Space Command as an opportunity to explore whether the command should be reorganized in the context of multi-domain operations, but said he didn't think that was the case. Hyten said he thought the US should deal with the new domains of cyber and space the same way it had dealt in the past with other areas beyond national authority, sea and air, where the US built powerful capabilities—the Navy and Air Force—and then worked with the international community on international norms of behavior. —Steve Hirsch

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Space Command Pursuing Four Priorities, Raymond Tells Conference

Air Force Space Command chief Gen. John "Jay" Raymond on Wednesday laid out four lines of effort his command is pursuing at the "strategic inflection point" when space is becoming a contested domain. His comments came less than a week after the Air Force sent a proposal on the Trump administration's proposed Space Force to the Defense Department. Raymond said the command is concentrating on partnerships within the Air Force, with the Intelligence Community, and with allies, as well as relations with industry. "There's an explosion of things happening in the commercial industry, and we want to capitalize on that," he said. He also said the command is working on developing joint warfighters—including space operators who understand the joint fight and conventional warfighters who understand space—and moving toward defendable space architectures. "The constellations that we have on orbit today aren't all that defendable," he said, suggesting they have been compared to the "slow kids in gym class that can't run very fast."  The command, he said is going "to make them run a little faster, if you will." Finally, in an effort mostly involving the Space and Missile Systems Center, he said the command is working on acquisition agility to make sure that the command can develop capabilities quickly. —Steve Hirsch


PACAF “Cautiously Optimistic” About North Korean Talks

In the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the US military has seen the threat as “quiet”--in that there hasn’t been a ballistic missile launch--but Pacific Air Forces needs to stay ready in case things change. PACAF boss Gen. Charles Q, Brown Jr. said Wednesday that the North Korean threat still exists, but in a different way. There’s two parts to the North Korean threat: the capability to launch a nuclear missile, and the intent to launch. “What we’ve seen is the intent has gone down, but the capability still exists,” Brown said Wednesday. PACAF is paying attention to intelligence and watching the diplomatic process work, but is continuing to train because those diplomatic efforts could go off course and “we have to be prepared,” he said. As of now, Brown is “cautiously optimistic” as talks progress. As part of the Singapore summit, the US military canceled large-scale bilateral military exercises with South Korea that were planned in the near term. No decision has been made on the fate of upcoming exercises, and PACAF is still working with US Forces-Korea to plan future training joint training exercises until it is told otherwise, Brown said. —Brian Everstine

Wilson: “Air Force We Need” is Start of New Dialog

“The Air Force We Need” vision for a 386-squadron force outlined by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein at ASC18 is the product of six months of study within “the Air Staff and subject-matter experts.” But that vision is only “the beginning of the discussion” about what it will take to meet the National Defense Strategy’s requirements. Goldfein said he heard “loud and clear” during his confirmation hearings in 2016 that Congress wants to be consulted on major issues early, not presented a finished, “perfect plan” for approval. “This is the beginning of a dialog,” Goldfein said. Wilson distributed mugs to reporters with “386” printed on the side, and acknowledged that the 386 figure includes units that could be carved out should Congress decided to fund a separate “Space Force” in the future. Wilson said the study did not specify numbers of aircraft or “tails,” and that “five or six more studies due in the next six months” will help fill in those kinds of details. There was “a lot of simulation and analysis” to define the squadron-level requirements; how those squadrons will be made up is still to come. But the Air Force didn’t want to “wait until March”  to get the conversation started, she said. The new force structure plan is so formative, in fact, it will not be reflected in the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) 2020, on which the 2020 budget will be based. This is “longer term,” Wilson said. It is, however, “having a significant impact on our Air Force, and it will really affect our planning and force development over the next several years.” —John Tirpak

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Goldfein says AEF Needs “Modifications”

The Air Force’s plan to send smaller contingents of aircraft and people to more places doesn’t spell the end of the Air and Space Expeditionary Force—but it does point to a need for change. We’re reviving concepts “we walked away from” over the years, said Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. Goldfein said plans for deploying small units to austere bases were all part of the AEF construct at its inception in 1998, but years of deploying individuals to AEF deployments at well-established bases took the service farther and farther from the original concept. “That model ... worked brilliantly for us through 9/11,” he said, and then “slowly, over time, we walked away from the key tenets that established it. For good reason—because that was what was required for the fight against violent extremism.” Now, however, “we’ve got some modification to do,” he said. The way the AEF has been employed in recent years “doesn’t necessarily work in a high-end fight,” and USAF must now prepare for a different mode of deployment. He declined to give any hard dates as to when airmen will start feeling the effects of the new emphasis on deploying smaller groups of people—with their regular team, not as individuals—but said these will have to be “credible packets of force” able to function in “a contested environment.” The initial emphasis will be on “identifying the responsibilities, the duties, the authorities that are required at each echelon … to carry out the tasks that are laid out in the National Defense Strategy.” —John A. Tirpak

Shanahan Calls for Changes in Sustainment, Including a Look to Industry

The Pentagon needs to change its approach to aircraft sustainment, and take lessons learned from private industry, which is far ahead of the military in terms of cost effectiveness and speed, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Wednesday. The military faces increasing challenges in sustainment and maintenance to keep its aging aircraft flying, challenges that have now made sustainment the biggest portion of lifecycle costs for an aircraft. While operating and maintaining aircraft in the military world is “remarkably” similar to the private world, private industry’s performance is much better in terms of faster and more effective engine overhauls, depot throughput, and asset utilization. “The US military is world class in many areas, in where we are not, we should be humble and learn from those who are adopting what they do well,” Shanahan said. For example, F-35 sustainment costs are growing at a rate that could limit the amount of aircraft each service can afford to buy, the Joint Program Office said earlier this year. The Air Force’s HH-60G Pave Hawks spent 332 days in maintenance on average last year, a dramatic increase from previous years. To address this, the military should look at changes to its funding processes, supply chain management, and organization structures. These changes could not only help the overall sustainment costs, but could also ease the burden on maintainers on the flight line. “Think of the airman first class turning a wrench in 100-degree heat, moving heaven and Earth to get that plane back in the fight,” Shanahan said. “Let’s rip off and deploy the tools and systems they need to succeed.” —Brian Everstine


AETC Boss: T-X Decision is “Imminent”

The commander of Air Education and Training Command said the contract award for the Air Force’s next-generation trainer is “imminent.” The long-anticipated award to replace the service’s 60-year-old T-38 aircraft is already more than half a year late. Speaking to reporters during a media roundtable on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast said the Air Force is still working to make sure “we’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s and done [our] due diligence [to have] a thoughtful process to make sure the future of training is maximized.” The Air Force won’t name the companies that tendered offers, but Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Leonardo of Italy all say they are still in, along with a few long shot contenders. Regardless of which platform is chosen, Kwast said the T-X will be a game-changer, bringing “more agility and flexibility” to USAF pilot training. With a 21st century trainer, the Air Force will be able to “modify the training environment to accommodate the many different attributes we want to teach,” he said, adding the service will no longer be “stuck to the old steam dial we talked about in the past, where it’s just one airspeed altimeter and not much else.” —Amy McCullough


Artificial Intelligence Coaches Can Help Students Learn Better, Faster

Air Education and Training Command is conducting beta tests and studying data aimed at helping the command better understand how the human brain works, so it can take advantage of artificial intelligence and other advancing technology to help students gain a deeper knowledge of their jobs more quickly. The command is using artificial intelligence to act as a coach that is always watching, learning, and offering real-time advice to students, whether they are learning to fly a fighter jet, turn bolts on an aircraft, or how to best defend a base. Read the full story by Amy McCullough and Steve Hirsch.


AETC Focused on Breaking Away From Industrial Age Thinking

Air Education and Training Command is breaking Industrial Age paradigms and giving students more control of how, when, and when they learn, commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast said on Tuesday. The goal is to develop more competent airmen by taking advantage of available technology and a deeper understand of how humans actually learn. Read the full story by Amy McCullough.

Bezos Touts Experiments, Willingness to Fail, Core Ideas

Amazon and Blue Origin rocket launch entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, at the last symposium of the Air Force Association’s 2018 Air, Space & Cyber Conference, gave advice to attendees on how to drive innovation with “real” experiments, which he defined as those where the outcome isn’t known before the experiment begins. He cautioned that “operational excellence” is too often confused with innovation, and suggested that any organization’s top leaders must really know and communicate the “big ideas” about why that organization exists. He also offered advice on dealing with “mavericks” who produce good ideas and what the “big ideas” behind Blue Origin are. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.  


The US military is lagging in network superiority

The US military persists in trying to build and manage its own global IT networks, instead of leveraging the expertise and multi-hundred billion dollar investments that US companies have already made in global infrastructure. According to a new report form the AFA’s Mitchell Institute, that’s a big mistake and it’s causing the US to lag its adversaries in the vital area of network superiority. Read the full story by Shaun Waterman.


Air Force Needs to Embrace the “Internet of Things,” and Become Less Risk-Averse, Say Panelists

Two years ago, US cyber warriors were warning about the security risks inherent in the burgeoning “Internet of Things” — the explosive growth in networks of connected, computerized devices collecting data. But now, officials and executives say, the military services need to embrace that risk in order to capitalize on the amazing new capabilities the Iot offers. Read the full story by Shaun Waterman.