Watch, Read: Defense Secretary Esper’s Keynote at AFA’s vASC 2020

Video: Air Force Association on YouTube

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper addressed the virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference from the Pentagon Sept. 16. Here is a transcript of his remarks:

“Hello everyone. I’m Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and it’s an honor to join you for this year’s Air, Space & Cyberspace Conference. Thank you to the Air Force Association for hosting an important event that brings together the finest aerospace leaders and professionals. First and foremost, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to the United States Air Force. For 73 years and counting, you have provided our nation with unlimited reach, unmatched power, and unyielding vigilance across the globe. 

“As we look toward the next seven centuries and beyond, emerging technologies are fundamentally altering the character of warfare. Our air, space, and cyber personnel will be at the forefront of tomorrow’s high-end fight. In the years ahead, wars will be fought not just on land and sea, as they have for thousands of years, or in the air, as they have for the past century, but also in outer space and cyberspace in unprecedented ways. Preparing for this requires modernizing our force for high-intensity conflict. It requires strengthening our network of allies and partners. And it requires expanding our warfighting capabilities across all five of these domains. 

“In this era of great power competition, we can not take for granted the United States’ long-held advantages. The Air Force in particular has maintained uncontested air superiority for decades, with persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and precision air strikes anytime, anywhere. However, our near-peer rivals, China and Russia, seek to erode our long-standing dominance in air power, through long-range fires, anti-access area denial systems, and other asymmetric capabilities designed to counter our strengths. Meanwhile, in space, Moscow and Beijing have turned a once-peaceful arena into warfighting domain. They have weaponized space through killer satellites, directed energy weapons, and more, in an effort to exploit our systems and chip away at our military advantage. Furthermore, our competitors and adversaries exploit cybersecurity to undermine our security without confronting our conventional strengths. They do this all in an increasing gray zone that keeps us in an perpetual state of competition. 

“The national defense strategy guides us as we adapt the force to this challenging, complex security environment by first divesting from legacy systems, second, reinvesting in our highest priorities, and third, making the tough choices required to break from the status quo and continue outpacing the competition. Thanks to our largest research and development budget in the department’s history, we are advancing critical technologies to maintain our military edge in areas such as hypersonic weapons, directed energy, and autonomous systems. 

“In the Air Force specifically, we are modernizing our force for the 21st Century with aircraft such as the B-21, the X-37, and the next-generation air dominance platform. Equally important, we are transforming the way we fight through the implementation of novel concepts such as dynamic force employment, DFE, which provides scalable options to deploy the joint force while preserving our capabilities for major combat. Perhaps one the strongest and most visible examples of DFE is our bomber task force. Through a quick-reaction, persistent, long-term bomber presence around the globe, the Air Force has not only increased aircraft readiness and aircraft availability, but has also provided a wider range of options for combatant commanders across multiples areas of responsibility. For example, in our priority theater, the Indo-Pacific, B-1s and B-2s from multiple bases, along with F-15s and F-35s, recently conducted joint maneuvers with Japanese fighters, as part of a large force exercise with the USS Ronald Regan carrier strike group. And just a few weeks ago, six B-52s overflew all 30 NATO countries in a single day, integrating with a wide array of allied fighters to demonstrate our iron-clad commitment to the NATO alliance. These are just two examples of how dynamic force employment provides strategic predictability to our allies, while remaining operationally unpredictable to our foes. 

“In order to realize the full potential of this and other novel concepts, we must be able to exchange and synchronize information across systems, services, and platforms, and we must do so seamlessly across all domains. The Department of the Air Force is leading on this front, with the advancement of joint all domain command and control, JADC2. As a key enabler in modernizing how we fight, JADC2 supports one of our top goals under the NDS—the development of a joint warfighting concept, and ultimately doctrine, that will drive our transition to all domain operations. Many of you have seen this first hand with recent on-ramps of the advanced battle management system. 

“This program is charged with creating the military’s Internet of Things, and will integrate the joint force into a cohesive battle network, with the ultimate goal of linking any sensor to any shooter on the battlefield in real time. For these breakthroughs to succeed in any future conflict, particularly in a high-end fight with a near-peer competitor, we must maintain superiority in the ultimate high ground: space. One year ago, we established United States Space Command as a unified combatant command to enable us to defend our national security interests in space. Then, we stood up the U.S. Space Force, charged with developing a cadre of warriors who are organized, trained, and equipped to compete in the space domain. The Space Force has already come a long way. It submitted an independent budget for Fiscal Year 2021. It commissioned 86 graduates from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and it released its first doctrine, titled, “Space power.” 

“Finally, in June of this year, the department published a defense space strategy, the first of its kind guidance to achieve a secure, stable, and accessible space domain, now and in the decades to come. As we prepare the joint force to defeat the threats of tomorrow, it’s clear that these challenges have expanded well beyond the traditional conception of warfare, into the cyber realm. To deter these hybrid threats, our digital modernization strategy guides our efforts to improve cyber capabilities and policies, to develop game-changing technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G, and ultimately, to move the warfighter into the cloud. 

“A tremendous amount of this work is already underway. For instance, we recently appointed a chief data officer charged with using DOD’s vast streams of data to enhance joint warfighting, support senior leader decisions, and improve business analytics. Additionally, in January, we implemented cybersecurity standards for defense contractors, large and small, to safeguard the supply chain and prevent malicious cyber actors from penetrating our defense-industrial base. And in May of this year, we designated the Air Force’s Platform One as an enterprise service, rapidly delivering secure software capability to our warfighters. The Air Force is also on the leading edge of our efforts to harness the transcendent power of artificial intelligence. In collaboration with academic and industry, the Air Force’s AI accelerator program is able to rapidly prototype cutting-edge innovation. For example, the AI technology used to speed up the F-15EX acquisition program. Thanks to these and other efforts, such as the creation of AI ethics principles, the DOD is establishing itself as the global leader in the responsible development and use of artificial intelligence. 

“At the same time, we are collaborating closely with our industry and interagency partners on the development of 5G, a transformational technology that provides lightning-fast, ubiquitous connectivity. Over the past few months, our spectrum team has been hard at work developing a band-sharing solution that facilitates 5G development in the private sector, while also allowing the Pentagon to use that spectrum to meet national security requirements. This technology can enhance something as simple as virtual reality training or as ambitious as the connectivity of systems for JADC2. 

“The Air Force is again leading the way with a number of 5G experiments that will assess system sharing, improve aircraft mission readiness, and enable air, space, and cyberspace lethality. 

“Lastly, at the intersection of several of these technologies is the department’s move toward digital engineering. By leveraging lessons from commercial sectors, we can accelerate the delivery of next-generation aircraft while simultaneously lowering costs.  In doing so, we will transform our 20th Century acquisition model to compete against high-end threats in the 2st Century. Harnessing the full potential of these technologies and concepts will depend heavily on our relationships with institutions outside of this department. So to all of our partners in industry, academia and the interagency, thank you for your support of the DOD mission, and for your steadfast commitment to our warfighters. 

“In closing, I am proud of the tremendous progress the Department of the Air Force has made to implement the national defense strategy and ensure our dominance across all domains. To protect our hard-earned gains, we must continue to promote a culture of innovation and risk taking. We must make the tough choices required to align our investments with our highest priorities, particularly by shedding legacy systems to advance new capabilities. In this rapidly changing security environment, we must adapt quickly and outpace our strategic competitors at every turn. In doing so, we will maintain our decisive advantage, now and into the future. I am confident that the Air Force has the best leadership in place at this very important moment in our department’s history. Under the direction of Secretary [Barbara M.] Barrett, the Air Force has demonstrated that it is prepared to fly, fight, and win, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Moreover, Secretary Barrett has done all of this while leading the department’s board on diversity and inclusion, an important initiative to ensure our ranks reflect and are inclusive of the American people we are sworn to protect and defend. Thanks also to our Air and Space Force leaders, Gen. [Charles Q.] Brown [Jr.], Gen. [John W. “Jay”] Raymond, Chief Master Sgt. [JoAnne S.] Bass, and Chief Master Sgt. [Roger A.] Towberman. I know that our Airmen and space professionals will continue to thrive in your capable hands. 

“Finally, I want to thank the men and women of the Department of the Air Force for all that you do to keep our nation safe. You’ve earned the title of world’s greatest Air Force, and now also Space Force, not just because of your warfighting skills and technical capabilities, but also because you’re an all-volunteer team of patriots committed to protecting our great nation, our constitution, and our most scared rights and freedoms. By executing your mission, grounded in the core values of integrity, service, and excellence, you will ensure our United States military remains the world’s best, strongest, and most capable fighting force now, and in the decades to come. Thank you.”