ORLANDO, Florida — Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett said Feb. 27 that successfully launching the Space Force while also modernizing the Air Force, strengthening ties with allies and partners and ensuring a culture of trust for Airmen and their families are the priorities that will drive the service into a successful future.
“Our priorities can be summed up simply,” Barrett told an audience of more than 2,000 Airmen, industry officials and retirees at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium.
“We need a modern, smart, connected, strong, Air and Space Force to deter and defend against aggression and to preserve precious freedom and peace,” Barrett said in one of her most high-profile appearances since becoming secretary. “We have that in the United States Department of the Air Force today.”
Barrett touched on a range of highlights and aspirations for the Department of the Air Force.
She unveiled the official name of the HH-60W, a new combat rescue helicopter that will be known as the Jolly Green II, a direct connection to the historical exploits of the Air Force rescue community.
She spoke about the importance of space and how the Space Force provides crucial new capabilities in a way that most Americans still don’t fully recognize but rely on every day.
“Few Americans think about how reliant we are on space or how vulnerable our country’s space assets are,” she said. “But as you know, space is essential in today’s American way of life. GPS enables everything from ATMs to weather and traffic reports to ride sharing apps to your phone alarm clocks to precision cameras to the gig economy.
“While space was a relatively peaceful and benevolent domain at the dawn of the space age, things have changed. … Today most of America’s space assets are defenseless. That’s why the president and the secretary of defense formed the Space Force,” she said.
The push to modernize is a common thread across the Department of the Air Force. In space that means adding new jam-resistant satellites and having the ability to respond “if deterrence fails,” she said.
For the entire department it means, “harnessing the power of technology” to develop a new class of weapons such as hypersonics and those using directed energy. It means broader use of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, she said.
Modernization requires updates that are equal parts cultural and operational. The prime example is creating a battle network for the joint force. The concept known as Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, provides new abilities to collect, analyze and share vast amounts of data to commanders across a spectrum of air, land, sea, space and cyber operations. The common shorthand for such efforts is to connect all shooters to all sensors.
Modernizing the Air Force also means developing and deploying new hardware and equipment. “We’re fielding new weapons such as the F-35 Lightning II, the B-21 Raider, MH-139 Grey Wolf,” she said, referring to the Air Force’s state of the art fighter, the new long-range strike bomber that will eventually replace the venerable B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, and a new multi-mission helicopter.
“These platforms form the core of our future force,” she said.
The strategy outlined Thursday by Barrett was the latest refinement of an effort launched in 2018 that came to be known as “the Air Force We Need.” That effort included the technology focus that Barrett highlighted in her remarks but also the need to increase the Air Force to 386 squadrons.
Barrett also noted the Arctic’s strategic importance and highlighted the department’s efforts in that region as an example of how allies and partners can work together for a common benefit.
“As in space, America is resolute in defending and protecting international norms of access and navigation as Arctic resources and sea routes gain importance. … That’s why maintaining strong defense relationships with Arctic nations who are willing to cooperate is critical. We stand with Canada, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Greenland via Denmark. We are stronger together,” she said.
She praised the quality and determination and focus of the 685,000 Airmen of the total force. “The most rewarding part of my role is talking with, and learning from, you,” she said.
“In the last four months I’ve heard from and visited thousands of Airmen, and I’m impressed. Our Airmen and space professionals are among the most talented leaders in the world,” she said.
In return, Barrett said the Air Force must do whatever it can to provide services and support. As an example, she said the Air Force is working with governors and legislatures to increase the chance that professional licenses, such as those for nursing or teaching, granted by one state are recognized in other states. She also said the Air Force must ensure “first-rate schools” for families.