To Give Trump “Options,” Air Force Speeds Up Nuke Modernization

USAF’s Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said the Air Force is working to modernize its nuclear capabilities to give the President options in face of potential global conflicts. Marcus Weisgerber, Defense One’s global business editor, moderated the talk in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Staff photo by Gideon Grudo.

The Air Force’s Vice Chief of Staff said the service is doing everything possible to hasten its nuclear modernization programs in preparation for looming threats.

“We’re focusing all our efforts—doing everything we can do—to get ready for any potential conflict around the globe, and giving the President options,” Gen. Stephen Wilson said Thursday, adding the Air Force is also “doing everything we can to shrink” the time it takes to complete the four stages in developing capabilities—requirements, acquisition, contracting, and testing—since “speed is a big driver.”

Wilson said nurturing “agile” processes requires a “stable budget,” echoing top DOD and other Air Force leaders.

Another wrench in the modernization gear is the “too problem,” Wilson said, speaking at the 2017 Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C.

“Too often we’re too slow, we’re too bureaucratic, we’re too regulated, we’re too risk-averse, we’re too stovepiped, we’re too easy to catch up to,” Wilson said. “In areas of the world where we were incredibly No. 1, we now say that area has shrunk.”

One of the prioritized paths there, Wilson said, is through talent, and “connecting people to the purpose.”

Today’s rapid capabilities office, for example, is akin to the “small” team that developed the F-117. Wilson said that culture of speed and innovation is “central,” adding the service is “trying to do that broadly across all our acquisition programs. When people like doing what they’re doing, success begets success.”

A culture of innovation, however, includes some challenges, like airmen’s adaptation to the increasing focus on human-machine teaming and the evolving nature of automation in their work. For some airmen, the future introduces a welcome shift. For others, it may seem foreign.

“Young airmen today … half of them are wickedly smart with technology, they’re coding themselves,” Wilson said. They’ll show up to work with ideas, saying, “‘Check out this app I wrote,’” Wilson added. “That’s the type of innovation I think we’re trying to unleash.”

Other cultures will seep into the force from the outside and specifically from the private sector, Wilson said, emphasizing the “relationship” leg of a much more modern future USAF. The idea of increasingly including industry echoes the recommendations the service recently received from ?the Defense Innovation Board. Also among those: Create “a new career field focused on innovation and rapid capability development” devoted to creating expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.

In response to these recommendations, Wilson acknowledged to the board, “We know we have to change.”