US Services on “Cusp” of Integration, Wilson Says

Army Secretary Mark T. Esper, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson at CSIS Monday. CSIS screenshot photo.

The Defense Department is close to moving beyond the joint fight to one that is fully integrated, said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Monday.

Her comments came at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, where she appeared alongside Army Secretary Mark Esper and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, both of whom struck similar notes.

The various services, she said, are “on the cusp of becoming integrated,” she said “not just interdependent, not just joint, but integrated in our operations,” adding that such a relationship will allow the services to gather information faster, make decisions faster, and act faster on the information, allowing the US to prevail in 21st century conflict.

She said the three Secretaries meet every week or two for breakfast and have already started to identify some of the ways they can work together. Both Esper and Spencer lauded the cooperation on such areas as technologies. Moreover, Spencer said he had attended a recent debrief after an Air Force war game, calling the session “a fascinating interchange of really going over the stovepipes.”

“There’s joint, but now there is integration—there is a difference,” he said.

Wilson also said the new conflict environment is likely to force the Air Force to change the way it prepares for future battle.

The Air Force, she said, is now set up to “cannibalize itself and put forward forces into the Central Command area of authority, to fall in on established infrastructure with established command-and-control systems, and to do that over and over again with about 16,000 people a year.”

“That is not what you would do for a high-end fight in a near-peer competition where you can’t count on exquisite command-and-control and infrastructure that’s already there, and uncontested airspace,” she said.

The demands of the National Defense Strategy, she said, will probably change “the way the Air Force thinks about and prepares for readiness in a high-end fight.”