Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson presented an update of the state of the Air Force on Sept. 17, during the 2018 Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor.
Wilson discussed restoring force readiness, space operations and the future of the Air Force during her presentation.
“Sometimes it is hard to see the sweep of history when we are just trying to get today’s work done,” Wilson said. “Which is why it is important to come together like this, to take stock of where we are, so that we can reaffirm where we need to go.”
Wilson said currently, the Air Force has returned to an era of great power competition.
Because of this, the Air Force must focus on readiness and acquisition to prepare for present and future operations.
“The (National) Defense Strategy tells us that we need to be able to defend the homeland, provide a credible nuclear deterrent and win against a major power while countering a rogue nation, all while managing violent extremists with a lower level of effort,” Wilson said.
The Air Force, she said, meets the threats the nation faces with its most basic unit, the squadron.
“Our operational squadrons are the combat power of the Air Force, they are the clenched fist of American resolve,” Wilson said. “We have 312 operational squadrons today. The ‘Air Force We Need’ has 386 operational squadrons by 2030. It takes all of us to get that combat power ready and able to fight ... A fist is nothing without the weight of the body behind it.”
The Air Force is also working hard to recover from its maintainer shortage. Just a few years ago the Air Force was short 4,000 maintainers. Wilson said by the end of 2018, that deficit will be eliminated.
“The Air Force is more ready for major combat operations today than we were two years ago,” Wilson said. “More than 75 percent of our force is combat ready and we’re moving the whole force to higher levels of readiness with actions that will play out over the next several years.”
Wilson also briefed on the importance of the mission in space, including a recent proposal to the Defense Department regarding the structure and responsibilities of a new branch of the Armed Services.
“As Airmen, we have the responsibility develop a proposal for the president that is bold, and that carries out his vision,” she said.
Wilson added the Air Force is fully committed to ensuring the U.S. continues to lead in space.
“There are actions that the Air Force can take immediately,” she said.
These actions include restructuring of the Space and Missiles Systems Center, which will enhance purchasing of space systems, and working with the Joint Staff to establish and support a unified combatant command for space.
“America is the best in the world at space and our adversaries know it. The threat to our space capabilities is growing and we can no longer view space as a function. It is a warfighting mission,” Wilson said. “The president has brought space into the spotlight. Dominating in space has now become kitchen table conversation and that will benefit this country.”