Watch, Read: Will Roper’s ‘Disruptive Agility for a Disruptive World’ Keynote, for AFA’s vASC 2020

Video: Air Force Association on YouTube

Watch Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Will Roper’s talk on “Disruptive Agility for a Disruptive World.” This video was adapted for public release from a presentation delivered at the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space & Cyber Conference. A transcript of these remarks follows:

Good morning and welcome to a virtual AFA. I want to thank AFA for that great introduction and thank all of you for joining from the comfort of your homes. You know, COVID-19 has forced us to live in an alternative universe, and so I thought a “Matrix”-inspired briefing might be a good idea to help us think about how digital technology can help us create an entirely new reality for acquisition, one in which we are more competitive against the adversaries we face and against the trends that are driving the world. Now, you’ve already heard from one visionary, Elon Musk, who’s told us we need to embrace new things like drones to become the kind of great Air Force in the future that we have been in the past. But let’s hear from a second visionary of commercial tech, Jeff Bezos, who’s built one of the most successful companies in history, and hear how he thinks we need to maintain disruptive agility for a disruptive world. 

[Quote on screen: “In today’s era of volatility … The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility, that’s it. Because nothing else is sustainable; everything else you create, somebody else will replicate.”]

“Well, he clearly points out that even if you’re amazing at technology today, there’s no guarantee that your competitors won’t copy what made you great. And so he puts his finger on agility as the delineator, the thing that you have to be good at, to be competitive long term. And if you look at the world in which we live today, we must be agile. The Air Force and Space Force must be agile. There are too many possible futures for us to pick one and build a force that’s geared to defeat it, whether it’s artificial intelligence or ubiquitous drones or something that we really aren’t prepared for, like gene editing and human augmentation. There’s no telling what the future can hold. And so what we have to do is follow Jeff Bezos’ indication, follow Elon’s advice, and make ourselves an agile force. 

“So just like the movie “The Matrix,” this boils down to a spoon-bending choice. We can either change the way we do business and be agile, or we can remain rigid in our Cold War process and lose. And with [Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.] and [Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond] telling the entire Air Force and Space Force we must accelerate change or lose, we have to do our part in acquisition. And that means fielding war-winning systems as fast as today and tomorrow’s adversaries and tech trends require. The technology is going to dominate a lot of our discussion today and you know I dearly love technology. But let’s not forget what actually makes agility happen. Agility is created by people. People that are going to go after those conventions and try to tear them down, but are mission focused, that get the job done no matter what it takes. And it’s the culture that those people create that ultimately get the job done. So we can’t make an org chart or process for agility. We have to invest in our people, and the culture that we have within the Air Force and Space Force. 

“And over the past months, we have needed our people and their agility more than ever. When COVID-19 hit, there was no playbook for a pandemic in the Defense Department. And if you didn’t know this, the Department of the Air Force had a significant role to play, not just for the department, but for the nation as a whole. If you’ve heard of the Defense Production Act, it’s been in the news. It’s the act that allows the Defense Department to work with industry to stand up new product lines, new supply chains. Well, we’re the executive agent. We’re front and center for the nation on that act. And so we had to stand up a task force to mobilize, just as if we were going to war, to do our duty for the nation, but also to fight back on the impact of COVID-19 on our industry base. And our team supporting this task force, working this night job, did amazing things. They significantly increased the N95 supply chain and production capacity for the nation, and swabs, and awarded ventilator contracts. dealing with over 3,700 industry proposals. We also ran the front door for FEMA and the DOD as a whole, a way for small businesses, for innovators to get their ideas to us, so that we could fight back on the impact of COVID-19 as a whole. And the amazing thing is that everyone did this working remotely. While we were having to innovate and be agile with how we do business, we had to do more business than ever before. And so for everyone that supported this task force, I just want to thank you personally. And we’re not done. COVID-19 is not out of sight. So we’re still going to be here. 

“And I want to especially thank the KC-46 RBS 2.0 team. It’s a great thing to know that when you are put under pressure, you can do things that are more than just surviving. You can thrive. And after going back and forth on this program that has been in the spotlight for so many years, we finally were able to seal a deal that puts it on a bright trajectory, and a bright future. It’s amazing that under this difficult time, we now have a path to get autonomy onto this tanker, two tankers earlier than our roadmap. That shows you the level of creativity and agility that you can achieve when you have to have it. 

“But it wasn’t just COVID-19 responses where we excelled. We kept our day jobs, too. So many programs continue to innovate, push the envelope, even while working remotely or having to stagger work shifts going into the office for classified work. And this slide alone says amazing things happened just over the past few months. We awarded the second space launch contract, GBSD hit its milestone B, successful hypersonic flight test, the Collier Trophy for the X-37B, amazing work by AFWERX and AFVentures, Kobayashi Maru, OCX, AFRL with the quantum accelerator, and so many others. This is just meant to tell you, to tell you the Air Force and Space Force, that your acquisition team is becoming that agile company that Jeff Bezos said is so important. 

“So as we look ahead, being reactively agile is good. We have to be able to deal with the unknown. We’re a military. We must go to war during uncertain times. And during COVID-19, we were ready to go to work on any given day. No major shutdowns, no major breakups. The readiness of our military was never in doubt, and never impeded. But if we’re going to compete, long term, then we’ve got to do more than just react. We have to proact. We have to be ahead of trends that we know will impact and change the world. 

“Now I know you’re accustomed to me having a few hashtags to drop during my briefs, and this year is no exception. So I want to highlight three areas that we have to be proactively agile, we have to see the battlefield in these areas, because these areas have the potential to not just change our lives, not just change the military, but change the world. So we can’t sit back and wait for the next lightning bolt. The next unicorn, the next disrupter. We have to be that lightning bolt, we have to be that unicorn, that disrupter. And it all starts by broadening our aperture about how big our tech ecosystem really is. We have to become a commercial Air Force and Space Force, a credible partner in innovation, wherever we find it. So, there are so many examples of the Air Force and Space Force becoming an innovator in commercial tech, I could spend a whole briefing just on this. But let me highlight just a few, to give you an example of how far we’ve come. Just one short AFA ago, I walked you through how we were standing up a new investment arm called AFVentures that was starting to co-invest with private investors, and that we were leading up to the world’s largest single day tech startup event. We pulled that event off during COVID-19, virtually, awarding almost $800 million and awards to amazing companies who have the aspirations to change the world, and on their way to doing it. Being able to change the Air Force. Well, since that time we’ve consolidated AFVentures, the agility prime flying car program, which is just another example of us being on the frontlines of the innovation battlefield, wherever it is. And you can see our Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Chief Brown, ready to fly to work if we let him. We need to be where innovators are. Well we have grown from bringing a billion dollars of private investment to over three, in less than a year and our trend says this is going to continue to grow and grow. No matter who you are, in the Air Force, if you’re an operator, a tester, a maintainer, an acquirer, anyone, then you have an imperative to stay up with commercial tech and use AFWERX as our investment arm to bring technology innovators to your mission. Arms are wide open, and sky or space are the limits. 

“It’s not just been an aircraft-type innovation, though flying cars are certainly cool and awesome, and an example of us ensuring that if new things are going to happen in the world, that they happen on our watch and with our help. But we also saw amazing commercial innovation in space, and this one, folks, has been long in the making. So, a program having to successfully navigate tech maturation and operational constraints is daunting enough, but our space launch program had to stand up a domestic space launch enterprise capable of meeting our needs in the military, but also commercial domestic ones. And we are finally across that goal line, folks, having awarded the next five years of not just launch for the military, launch for the military, the intelligence community, and an industrial base that we helped build, that’s capable of launching satellites for the nation, commercial or military. Amazing example of us seeing that the future has to be dual use, working on both sides of the aisle, not just building military-unique systems like the Cold War.

“And, if you think that innovation is only relegated to things like airplanes and satellites, no, there’s amazing innovation, amazing commercial innovation, in our nuclear enterprise. So, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program just got to award its engineering phase, so congratulations team, what an amazing accomplishment. But what you may not know sitting at home is that some of the world’s leading software technology is coming to bear in this program, and in a nuclear program that is a must-succeed program. So Kubernetes, or containerization, is an open-source technology trend that is just going viral right now. And it solves a critical problem for us. So I’m sure you know that when we develop software, it’s usually in something like a laptop or a server, someplace where a lot of people in T-shirts or hoodies, like Kessel Run or Kobayashi Maru or Level Up, or Space Camp, or any of the software factories that have been so successful over the last two years. And the one that I’m showing here in this slide, the example is Ski Camp, which just stood up out at Hill Air Force Base to support GBSD. 

“Well, we are bringing this latest technology that solves an amazing problem, how to get from those laptops and servers out to the edge. Now you can understand why that would be so important for Internet technology, to get from the cloud out to your device. But the same technology helps us get from the cloud out to our missile, or our airplane, or our satellite. Following this commercial trend so we don’t have to create it ourselves. Just another amazing example of us broadening our aperture and becoming a commercial-first service. Because, if we don’t, we face another spoon-bending dilemma. Folks, right now the Defense Department is only 20% of our nation’s [research and development]. That’s a complete 180 flip from the Cold War, where we were 80%. That doesn’t mean that we’ve gotten bad at technology, it just means technology’s changed. It’s ubiquitous and volatile, like Jeff Bezos mentioned. And so with technology being cheap and ubiquitous, it’s everywhere, and all the time, and in so many different areas. So if all we do is think about the next generation in terms of what we can do with defense-unique companies, then we’re putting ourselves and a one-fifth slice of the pie, and that’s not a big enough ecosystem to win. Now is it going to challenge the way that we design systems, build systems, certify, do acquisition, do testing, do everything? Of course it will. It’s the reason why we have organizations like AFWERX. It’s the reason that we are encouraging programs to push the envelope. We have to have our envelopes pushed, even burned. Because if we can’t work in our entire tech ecosystem, we will lose to adversaries that can tap all of theirs. So, Air Force and Space Force, this is a spoon-bending dilemma that we have got to get right. 

“Well, let’s say we get this right. So, we become an amazing commercial innovator. We are the tech champion of choice, and that actually is fairly true right now. If you look across our investments last year, we brought over 3.6 private dollars to every dollar we intentionally invested in the Air Force towards commercial aims. That’s an amazing return on investment—quadrupled your money. So congratulations. But it’s not enough. You can work in that broad tech ecosystem, but if we don’t build a force that looks like the ecosystem, there’s no place to plug into. We’ve been talking about plug-and-play in the military since I first got into defence. And the thing we ran past was the plug. We jumped directly to play, the more fun part to discuss. But to get plug right, you’ve got to go to a level of technology the Defense Department has historically sucked at. 

“So just as a cute example, if you’re sitting at home, you could ask Alexa, ‘How do I agilely connect the force?’ And I did this before coming to shoot this video, and she’s not going to give you a satisfactory answer. The amazing thing is the fact that we can even ask the question is also its answer. If we want to agilely connect the Joint Force, then we have to do what makes Alexa work. This amazing system of systems that goes from an edge device that has its own local sensing and processing that you interface with, connected to an entire internet, an entire cloud, and data, and analytic backbone, that allows that local device to be so much more than a phone. It’s touching the entire world of data. Well, you know the talk here. We put lightning bolts on PowerPoint slides. They’re not real. They don’t actually connect anything. And so the answer to how do we connect the Joint Force agilely is: We have to build the internet for the military. And last AFA I said we had a huge challenge, we were a military where almost nothing was connected, where people went home where they were connected to almost everything. We have a long way to go, but we’ve made amazing progress in the advanced battle management programs, which is our Internet of Military Things. 

“So I’m going to go back through this. I think this is so important. It is worth taking a moment to explain how it works. The things I think we’re all familiar with. This is what we take pictures of, this is what we have budget line items associated with, this is really what we think of when we think of our military. And what we’ve been doing with the Advanced Battle Management System is putting in everything that’s between them, that we have in the internet but we’ve been missing within the Joint Force. The connectivity that’s flexible that can hop between different frequency bands or different communication waveforms, so that an adversary can’t take away the one and only one, one and only communication mechanism that might be available at that time. It’s too fragile a thread to take into the battlefield. And why do we connect things device to device, when everything connects that way and to the cloud as well, and the cloud connection is the most important? Because that’s where the world of data lives, that’s where AI and analytics lives, that’s what allows that device, that allows you to connect with Alexa, to connect with the world, and we have not had it. So simply putting in global and local cloud connectivity to it, securing our data there and building artificial intelligence in it, does what works so well in our private lives. It builds an Internet of Military Things, where the data is not what cat video is the latest that’s trending, but might be the threat that’s about to take you out on the battlefield. 

“And I know this gets a little abstract, we have funny names for these programs. Cloud One, Platform One, terms like Kubernetes and containerization, and you may be sitting there thinking, I don’t really understand what this means. Well here’s all you’ve got to take away: If a program has one at the end of the name, even if you don’t understand the tech, it’s all about making the Joint Force act as if it’s one system of systems, just like the internet. And if names and graphics don’t really motivate you. let’s talk specifics. So, once you have an Internet of Things that can fight at machine speeds, what can you do with it? And this problem for me, folks, is personal. This takes me back to 2012, when I first came in to the Defense Department, working for Secretary Ash Carter. One of the very first things that I told him, is that base defense, whether you can do it or not, is one of the most important problems that you can solve in the Defense Department, one of the most important for our deterrent and warfighting posture. But at the time, this was before machine learning and the AI advent within the Pentagon, this was a wicked hard problem. Well now, a few years later, the wicked hard problem can be solved fairly straightforward, by technology that empowers your personal lives. And so in the second on-ramp event that we just did a few days ago, on the third of September, we connected multiple sensors together that were feeding different views of a real simulated attack on the homeland, on a homeland base, real cruise missile surrogates flying. We tracked them with multiple sensors, we connected those tracks to a variety of different outlets, people, and analytics, and AI, and operators, through connectivity that we have in the military, like Link 16. But we also used new things like 4G and 5G connectivity. It’s the wave of the future.

“That connectivity wasn’t just happening device to device, it was all happening inside the cloud both globally and out at the edge, and the piece de resistance was passing all of that cloud-based, AI-enabled data into one kill chain that a human could understand quickly and give the command to do something I’ve been waiting to see for seven years, which is seeing a hypervelocity gun, which has the speed and price point to be able to do base defense, take on a cruise missile surrogate in the real world. And with no further ado, let’s show you the gun, and let’s show you the video.”

[Plays video]

Roper: “Now if that doesn’t get you excited in the morning, I don’t know what will. So congratulations to the ABMS team and the strategic capabilities office for bringing hypervelocity guns together with hypervelocity decision making. And mark Sept. 3, 2020 on your calendar. That might be the watershed moment we’ve been waiting for, where you get to see the actual internet, the military’s Internet of Things, come to bear on a problem that could not be solved without machine-to-machine decision making. 

As I think about the future battlefield and watch the technologies that could aid it, the one I fear the most is machine-to-machine decision making, because I don’t know, I don’t know what the ramifications will be. It’s fast, it’s quick. But it has vulnerabilities and susceptibilities that people don’t. But when a technology could be that disruptive, we simply can’t be behind the power curve. It’s too important for us not to bet on it. So the spoon-bending dilemma that connectivity creates is, do we want to operate at machine speed and unlock all that internet technology can give our warfighters? Or do we want to risk continuing to operate at human speeds? I’ll tell you what folks, the only thing I can think of that would be worse than fighting AI is fighting without it. You know, we’ve always been able in the Air Force, and now Space Force, to end debates on emerging technology by saying, but we have the human advantage. No matter what it is, we will be able to adopt it, adapt it, and use it faster than our opponents. But now, for the first time in history, there’s a technology that could undermine human advantage itself. And it’s too big of a deal, with the pace of machine learning as fast as it is, for us to not get this spoon-bending dilemma right. So, Air Force and Space Force, this is one for our radar screens. 

“So let’s say we get that right. We have become an amazing commercial investor, so, you know hashtag commercial Air Force. Let’s say we have gotten connectivity right, so we’re hashtag connected Air Force and Space Force. Well that’s still not enough. It’d be great to have a lot of commercial technology coming in, and it’d be great to be connected like the internet. But we are still a military that has to build unique things. As much as I admire companies like Amazon and, and Elon’s SpaceX and Tesla, I know I can’t go to Amazon prime and order a hypersonic weapon or a stealth bomber, but I’ll see if Jeff Bezos is going to try to change that anytime soon. We have to build things that are unique to the military, and the more amazing commercial technology becomes, the more amazing our military technology is going to have to be, to overcome the advantages that are available to all. And to remind ourselves commercial technology is not going to give us any kind of exclusive battlefield advances. It’s simply going to be available to everyone. And so, the last area that we have to have strategic agility is in being able to completely computerize or virtualize everything about our development and production assembly, even sustainment of systems, so that we can finally get past the tyranny of the real world, and take learning and feedback into the digital world.

“So if we were to do one of those funny, ask Alexa a question again, so, ‘Alexa, how do I maintain an agile force if 70% of my program funding is trapped in sustainment?’ You can probably guess that’s a trick question. You can’t. Right now, 70% of every dollar we spend is trapped in a part of acquisition where we have, we have yeoman airman and space professionals that keep legacy systems operating, but it consumes our budget. It is such a big force that it limits our ability to create new and dominant things, and we have been stuck here since the Cold War. 

“Now, I know acquisition is foreign to a lot of folks, and I don’t like the term at all. This is just a technology company we’re running in the Air Force and Space Force, but it’s a unique technology company that obeys different rules than the private sector. And one rule that we are currently obeying is this vicious circle that we have been trapped in, especially in aircraft procurement, since, since the late 70s. Now, it basically starts at the top right, where we don’t compete things very often, right? It’s, it’s unusual for us to start a new program for a fighter, or a bomber, or even a major weapon or satellite. And once that’s common, then this vicious circle happens behind it. When the programs are so few and far between, they become must-win events for industry, so they buy into it, they put so much of their own money on the table so that they can win, in many cases it’s existential that they do. Once they put their own money on the table, they have to get it back. They’ve lost money in the upfront design and production, so they have to get it back in sustainment, the long-term upkeep of programs. So we get sustainment-dominated business cases, which of course force industry to lock in to sustainment so that they can recoup their own investment, and we end up doing modernization sole source with those vendors, tail chasing threats, and the cycle continues. We will not compete against nations like China and Russia if we are trapped in this vicious circle. We have to find a way to break it, and create a new circle where most of our work is in design and production, building a cutting-edge military that can deal, agilely, with all the forces that could come to bear on the battlefield. 

“Well, this is an area where we should be super excited, because technologies are crossing into defense, from commercial industry that have a chance to take on the ground assumption that this circle is based on, that design and production take a long time, and are really expensive, and you have to have a lot of people to do them. And in today’s world, that’s simply not true. Now, if you don’t own a Tesla, or don’t really follow technology, you probably know something is different about the way companies like Tesla design and assemble their cars, and that it’s highly, highly digital. You may have even heard terms like digital twin and digital thread. And it’s not important for this talk that you understand them. The thing that I want you to understand is that industry transcended building blueprints, or computer models that were good approximations for the physical system, but not the same as the real thing. Companies have made their digital systems in this many, many respects, more real than the physical thing they build, because their digital system is living, breathing, all the time, always been redesigned, optimized, tested, digital. The power of this is very much like the movie “The Matrix,” that you could have a reality that’s so real that you can learn there. And then when you wake up in the real world, that learning comes with you. The same thing is true with digital engineering. So maybe you’ll buy this on consumer products, like a car you’re going to buy to drive around your neighborhood, but clearly not a technology we can bring into a high-performance endeavor. Well, that’s actually a case where it gets even more amazing. So, efforts like Formula One racing have taken the idea of digital engineering to a radical extreme that should inspire us to follow. 

“So today in Formula One racing, there are no prototypes anymore. If you’ve heard that acquisition adage, ‘Fly before you buy,’ which sounds like good common sense? It’s not true anymore in Formula One. They e-create before they aviate. They do everything in the digital environment, representing subsystems, the physics of their car, the driver interface, which you can see here, even the tires and its tread, and how they wear and heat on the road are modeled perfectly. And after they’ve designed hundreds or thousands of cars, optimizing between the driver and the engineering, they build the one physical car, and it hits the tracks two weeks later. And that physical car continues being connected in this feedback loop with its digital twin, and they get better together, every time a simulation is wrong, or every time a driver takes a lap around the track. It’s an inspiring, inspiring example, because if we can take things we once did in the physical world, having to design things, build things, integrate things, where we spend lots of money, with lots of people, if they can go digital, then we can design and build all the time. And when it’s time to go build that physical system, we can be as confident as a Formula One team. And if you’re thinking well maybe a ground vehicle like a race car maybe that’s okay but hey, Will, we’re an Air Force and a Space Force, we work in some of the most hostile environments of all, and if our systems don’t work, they fall out of the sky or fall out of space. Well, you’ve heard the Secretary’s announcement of a new series of systems within the Air Force and Space Force, the e-system. So, think of it like the e equivalent of your ebook or email. This is an e-airplane, an e-satellite, an e-weapon. And it’s so much more than just simply being a digital rendering of something we’re going to build physically. This is a system that contains everything you need to know about the real system that will ultimately be used on a battlefield or in the case of T-7, be used to train operators who will go on to that battlefield. 

“So, the performance of T-7 is amazing. The ability to build an airplane the first time as if you have already built 100 is game changing Air Force and Space Force. If that doesn’t seem like it opens up a paradigm, I promise you it does. Learning curve is dead, integration is dead, flying before you buy is dead, if we choose it. But you might be thinking, well a trainer, a trainer’s one thing. You know, yes I understand that you can digitize I, I understand that you can have a model that is one-to-one, perfectly recreates the way the physical system is going to be built. I understand you can use that model to not just learn to design the system, but to assemble it, even sustain it before the physical system’s ever built. I get that, but you’re sitting there and thinking, well, Will, I’m on the, I get that digital’s important. I’m on the fence about whether this e-series thing is actually legitimate. I mean, are these really real systems when they don’t go to war? Well, trainers don’t go to war either, but we consider them exceptionally valuable, maybe the most valuable thing that we build, because they teach our operators to go to war. Their output is that operator learning. Of course, with a physical trainer, it’s at real-world speeds. So just think of an e-system as creating war-winning learning for everyone. This is an entire digital reality like the Matrix. So, there’s a model for operators, a model for engineers, for assemblers, even AI can train in this digital environment. So an e-system is simply a digital enterprise-wide trainer that operates at machine speeds.

“So I hope I’ve piqued your interest as to what digital engineering can do, and maybe even convinced you that an e-series really is something that is just as real as a physical system would be in the past. But you might be thinking, a trainer or a replacement for current system, like the Minuteman III, might be more amenable, and it’s gonna be some time before the Air Force and Space Force can take on new next-generational systems, like satellites and cutting-edge weapons. While I’m here to tell you that within the Space Force, we’re already working on the first two e-sats, hoping to bring this technology into space. And next generation air dominance, our successor to the amazing inventory that we have today, is doing something even more radical: Taking on that vicious circle itself, trying to speed up the cycle at which we design things, by buying, iteratively improving, spiraling aircraft in a digital century series or e-series approach. It’s inspiring, because it’s the automotive, or Formula One, example crossing into defense and getting us power and agility we never had before. So [Next Generation Air Dominance] right now is designing, assembling, testing in the digital world, exploring things that would have cost us time and money to wait for physical world results. But if, if you think that we don’t care about physical-world results, we do. In fact, NGAD has come so far that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world. It’s broken a lot of records in the doing. Digital engineering isn’t a fluke. It’s not a point. It’s a trend. It is our future and I’m excited to see where this trend goes, and hopefully see it end that vicious circle that we have been trapped in for so long. 

“So the spoon-bending dilemma we face here is we can choose to be fully digital, or we’re done. Digital engineering is the magic that acquisition has been waiting for. Just like the movie “The Matrix,” superhuman, superhero powers are awaiting us, if we can just free our minds from rigid analog thinking. But with this trend going so fast through commercial industry, our challenge is keeping up and applying it to tomorrow’s military systems that our warfighters will need. So Air Force and Space Force, digital is the new battlefield. Wars will be won and lost based on how well we digitally design. So let’s make sure that our victories are won digitally first, so that they’re won decidedly after. 

“So if you’ve followed my thread here, Air and Space Force, you’ve done amazing. You have made trends go viral that will help us become competitive long term, if we keep it up. I could not be prouder of you, or more honored to be part of this team. So, we have had a hashtag trend of being a commercial partner of choice, working in our full tech ecosystem. And we’ve got to keep that up. We are not working across the full innovation landscape that our nation brings to bear. So good progress. But let’s make the hashtag continue to trend. And with connectivity, we are becoming a connected Air Force. We are becoming an Internet of Things-enabled military, where AI isn’t something that’s aspirational, it is part and parcel of how we do business and win wars. But we can’t take our foot off the accelerator. We have just gotten into this ballgame. We don’t want to face an AI-enabled adversary when we’re still making decisions at human speeds. And finally, with this hashtag digital trend, this is the new-new. This is the thing we’ve been looking for that would not just let us be agile, with things like software, but that would bring in hardware, connectivity, everything that we need to dominate.

“So these three trends are important, but don’t think they’re the end. These are not the only spoons we’re going to have to bend to be able to compete and win long term. They are simply the ones we bend today on our watch, to set the Air Force and Space Force up for whatever comes hereafter. So the question I have for all of you is, ‘What spoon are you holding? And why is it holding you back?’”

[Video of digitized version of Roper’s face]: “This is what Defense acquisition has been waiting for: A new paradigm, a digital one, that can wake up to a new reality for taxpayers and warfighters alike. Its spoon-bending possibilities await us. It’s time to wake up and win.”