Top Air Force and industry leaders gathered for the biggest Air Force meeting of the year at AFA’s 2018 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Monday. Everything you need to know.

USAF Plans Dramatic Increase in Number of Squadrons

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced a major force structure reorganization on Monday during her keynote address. The service, she said, is too small to accomplish what the nation is asking of it, so it must grow by 74 operational squadrons by 2030. If Congress approves, that would be the most squadrons the Air Force has had since the peak of the Cold War. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

USAF Needs to Change How Forces Deploy—In Addition to Building Up its Squadrons

The Air Force needs to change how it deploys and presents its forces to be more effective in a short-notice, large-scale fight against a great power, the service’s operations chief said Monday. Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, the deputy chief of staff for operations, said part of the service’s overhaul after the National Defense Strategy, which includes building up the number of operational squadrons, will be a change in how these squadrons deploy. Under the current construct, units are sourced from throughout the Air Force and spin-up before the deployment. These units then face no threats to their area of responsibility, and then acclimate before operations commence. This will not be how wars are fought in the future—as the National Defense Strategy lays out—the homeland is no longer a sanctuary, and there will be challenges to the US military advantage. The Air Force now needs to be ready to deploy with little to no warning, meaning no chance to “spin up,” and must also be ready for a contested mobilization to the operating location, Kelly said. Units have to be ready and cohesive to operate immediately. —Brian Everstine

Air Force Has Sent Space Force Proposal to Defense Department, Wilson Says

The Air Force last week sent a proposal to the Defense Department setting out details of a new Space Force, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Monday. The proposal, which was forwarded on Sept. 14, covered the “responsibilities and structure of” the new service, which USAF estimates will cost about $3.3 billion in the first year and require some 13,000 employees. “As airmen,” she said, “we have a responsibility to develop a proposal for the President that is bold and that carries out his vision.” Read the full story by Steve Hirsch.

Force Structure Announcement Doesn’t Affect Bomber Roadmap—For Now

Despite Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson’s declaration that the Air Force needs to grow about 25 percent—and that the bomber fleet should grow 55 percent to meet combatant commander demands—Global Strike Command’s Bomber Roadmap will remain unchanged for now, AFGSC Commander Gen. Timothy Ray told reporters Monday. Ray said there are about five studies underway that must be completed—and Congress must approve—before the command moves to expand from nine to 14 bomber squadrons. The Bomber Roadmap, or “Vector” as it was called when it leaked out in January, calls for retiring the B-1 and B-2 fleets in the 2032 timeframe, with the rest of the bomber fleet comprised of new B-21 stealth bombers and venerable B-52s. The idea is to hold AFGSC at roughly the manpower levels it now has. Ray said the command will concentrate on upgrading existing bombers for now, and while he didn’t talk numbers of B-21s, he said the program is advancing well. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.

No, Warrant Officers are Not the Answer to the Pilot Shortage, USAF Maintains

The Air Force is still against the idea of bringing back warrant officers, despite Congressional prodding. Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for personnel, said that bringing back warrant officers to fill cockpits will not help the service’s growing pilot shortage. The Air Force was tasked by Congress in last year’s defense authorization bill to study the feasibility of reintroducing warrant officers to address the shortage, and the service tasked the RAND Corp. to produce a study on the issue. That study found that the real issue is not a lack of personnel at the outset—there are still enough prospective pilots going into training—but the Air Force itself is having trouble getting them through the training. To address that, Air Education and Training Command is working to streamline the training process with ideas such as Pilot Training Next, which increases the use of simulators to give prospective pilots more flying time, Kelly said. The Air Force is also facing the issue of pay disparity between a uniformed pilot versus a commercial airline pilot. The retention issue would only be made worse if warrant officers are flying, because the disparity in pay is even larger between a warrant officer’s salary and that of an airline pilot, he said. —Brian Everstine

Wilson: Review of Red Tape Aimed at Empowering Airmen

The Air Force is halfway through its review of regulations and instructions, with 246 of them already cut and many more expected, as the service tries to streamline its processes and reduce red tape. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the effort is focused on getting rid of out-of-date paperwork and bureaucratic micromanaging. The review doesn’t only focus on Air Force Instructions and regulations, the service is also reviewing Inspector General-issued self-assessment checklists, a common complaint among airmen. The IG and Air Staff are evaluating the process to cut these checklists in half by November, Wilson announced to applause from airmen. The review is more than just cutting red tape, it is about putting more trust into airmen and driving down decision-making authority, Wilson said. “In a high-end conflict we must anticipate that we will not have exquisite command and control,” she said. “Communications will be degraded or intermittent. We will expect you to take mission orders and do your best to accomplish the objective. If we expect you to fight that way, we have to treat you that way in peacetime. This is a warfighting imperative.” —Brian Everstine

From Exercise to Reality: The Bloody 100th’s Role in Syria Operation

In April, when the call came to strike Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, KC-135s from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, were in the first wave. The weather was so poor, the tankers “needed a follow me truck to find the runway’s center line,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Monday. But, “If they didn’t go, the mission would have to be scrubbed.” Read the full story by Amy McCullough, who recently sat down with wing leaders during a visit to Mildenhall.

The Coming Revolution in Munitions

Smart bombs aren’t really smart, they’re just guided. Getting to exactly the right place is obviously very important for a bomb. But when they get there, they do the same thing bombs have been doing for 100 years—they blow up. What if you could make a really smart bomb — one that could modify its effects depending on the target? Experts from AFA’s Mitchell Institute and the Air Force Research Lab said a new generation of munitions is arriving that can do exactly that. Read the full story by Shaun Waterman.

Roper Says “Accelerations” Will Feature in Unfunded Priorities List

When Congress asks USAF for an “Unfunded Priorities List” after the Fiscal 2020 budget is submitted, the service will include “accelerations” among its wishes if more money is offered than requested. Roper said the Air Force may very well be in a position to speed up some programs and may ask to do so if Congress is so inclined, after other priorities have been met. Roper said time is of the essence in staying ahead of world competitors, and some programs may only be moving as fast as the money permits. He said he’s ordered program managers to meet stringent new time limits with programs, and they have not shied away. The Air Force is seeking to take “years” out of programs, he said, and program managers will have to fight for “an extra day … or a month.” Speed, however, is inappropriate on major programs that will have to serve for decades, where extra investment of time up front will likely pay dividends in speed and savings later. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.

SpaceX’s Shotwell Expresses Concerns About Russia, China Space Efforts

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said she had concerns about Russian and Chinese military space efforts, particularly China’s. Shotwell said she is concerned about Russian and Chinese space competition because they are backed heavily by their governments. She said she is concerned that China will fly 40 times this year, as Chinese media has reported. “It’s not for commercial customers, they have very few commercial customers,” noted Shotwell. “We should be quite worried about that.” She also raised concerns about innovation in the Chinese space program, the quick pace of it, and their ability to obtain funding. When asked whether SpaceX would consider launching offensive military systems, she replied, “If it’s for the defense of this country, yes.” The answer got applause. —Steve Hirsch

Method Behind the Extravagance: Why SpaceX Really Sent a Tesla to the Stars

Why did the Tesla cross the universe? To get you to see space with new eyes. While there was widespread media speculation that the company’s Feb. 6, attempt to launch a Tesla Roadster into solar orbit with help from the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle was nothing more than an exceptionally expensive publicity stunt, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said there’s method behind the extravagance. “We want, basically, the public to be supportive of what we do, and, so, we try to do big things, we try to do slashy things, and it’s not to show off, but it’s to get people thinking about space again and looking to the stars,” she said. “We think that’s incredibly important.” Shotwell clarified the car’s deeper meaning during a Monday keynote, stressing that she got the most celebratory outreach on that fateful day in February because of the company’s “two brother-sister boosters landing side-by-side” than she did about the “Starman” mannequin named in David Bowie’s honor or his buzzworthy ride. —Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

AFSOC Chief Cites Efforts to Improve Battlefield Airman Recruitment, Training

Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, on Monday highlighted current Air Force efforts to improve its recruitment and training of special operations forces, or battlefield airmen. The Air Force has set up a special recruiting squadron aimed at selecting the right prospects for the battlefield airman training pipeline, and has begun a BA prep course to ensure that recruits are prepared for that pipeline. Webb said the Air Force is involved in “what we call a force-improvement program” for specialties including combat controllers, pararescuemen, tactical air control parties, and special operations weather technicians. The Air Force, he said, is in “direct competition with other services for a declining pool of high schoolers that are actually qualified” for these types of jobs. He said USAF must continue to focus on these efforts, saying battlefield airman contributions to US military operations “are significant and growing.” —Steve Hirsch

Insitu, Maker of ScanEagle, Unveils New Small UAS

Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary that makes small, remotely piloted aircraft such as the ScanEagle and RQ-21 Blackjack, unveiled a new unmanned aircraft system on Monday that the company says is a response to needs of the Air Force. The company unveiled the Integrator Extended Range on the expo floor, a small drone capable of flying 10 hours on station and providing high-quality full-motion video. The drone, similarly sized to the ScanEagle that is already in service, is capable of 10 megabits per second bandwidth that can be transmitted beyond line of sight. The aircraft is acoustically and visually “undetectable,” which could let the Air Force free up high-demand aircraft such as the MQ-9 for other missions, Insitu CEO Esina Alic said. —Brian Everstine

General Atomics Demonstrates MQ-9 Auto Landing and Takeoff

The Air Force’s upgraded MQ-9 Reaper for the first time landed on its own and then took off on its own earlier this year. The Block 5 Reaper, with the new Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability, successfully demonstrated auto-landing on Aug. 7, followed by auto-takeoff on Aug. 9, a development that “increases the autonomy, flexibility, combat effectiveness, and safety” of the aircraft, said David Alexander, president of aircraft systems at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, in a release. The all-weather capability was developed to help reduce the deployment burden on the Air Force by reducing the number of ground control elements needed for a Reaper to operate. —Brian Everstine