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Leveraging Air and Space Power -- Extending the Nation's Strategic Advantage

Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force
Keynote address to the Air Force Association National Convention, Washington, D.C., Sept. 17, 2003

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, I am thrilled to stand before you today at the Air Force Association's National Convention and to share the dais with great leaders such as Secretary (of Transportation) Norman Mineta and our featured speaker later this morning, the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. They both are public servants in the noblest sense of the term, and each is a good friend of the U. S. Air Force. We are fortunate that they are taking the time to join us, given their very hectic schedules.

Let me also offer my thanks and congratulations to the assembled leadership of the Air Force Association. This is always a highlight of the Air Force year, and it takes an awful lot of sweat equity to make it happen. From your recognition of our outstanding airmen and teams to the thoughtful symposia you've sponsored, the AFA's charter to increase public understanding of air and space power is invaluable to those of us on "active duty" in the Pentagon and throughout the Air Force. Thank you for your strong advocacy of our efforts to recapitalize and modernize our force. You inform, you advocate, and through the Aerospace Education Foundation, you help to educate and inspire the next generation of aerospace pioneers.

Most important, I offer my sincere thanks for your support of our airmen and their families. The active, guard, reserve and civilian airmen who populate our Total Force team are buoyed by your tireless efforts. Through your work, they understand the issues of the day, and have gained an appreciation of our storied traditions and heritage. For all these reasons, and for your sponsorship of this historic gathering of international leaders, I offer my sincere congratulations.

I want to pass on a very special welcome to the Global Air Chiefs, the representatives of many nations around the world with whom we fly, and from whom we always learn a great deal. We've been honored to welcome you to our nation's capitol this week and to open the doors of this great city to you and your spouses. General John Jumper even scheduled a hurricane for you, just to heighten the excitement of the week.

As we celebrate the achievements of the past year, we recognize that there is a common language of airmen and a bond that transcends our nation's borders. The world is shrinking through the power of ideas and our shared values. Just as the dreams of two bicycle-makers launched us into a century of innovation and exploration, the air forces of our nations will continue their vision into the next century, and will be an instrument to spread the promise of freedom. So, again, I thank you for being with us this week.


A year ago today, I addressed this audience just after the first anniversary of the events of Sept. 11. Last year, our airmen were diligently patrolling the skies of Northern and Southern Iraq -- on watch to catch an occasional Iraqi MiG crossing the boundary into the U.N.-mandated no-fly zones. Our airmen were stationed en masse at Incirlik and Prince Sultan Air Bases. We were aggressively developing intelligence on Al Qaeda around the globe and hunting their leadership. And last year, when I spoke, we were proudly reporting on the results of our first offensive battle in the global war on terrorism, the Battle of Afghanistan.

Only months later, our nation would again engage in another major combat operation. More than 50,000 airmen would deploy to expeditionary bases throughout Southwest Asia. That we would fly over 70,000 strike, reconnaissance, and mobility sorties in conflict. By the way, of those, 10,000 were tanker sorties and 43,000 were cargo sorties. And, our footprint around the world would evolve substantially, with new bases and renewed relationships growing in importance. Our Air Force has proven remarkably flexible in adapting to these new demands. That is a testament to our expeditionary operating concepts, as well as the airmen who have adopted this mindset as the norm rather than the exception.

You have heard many leaders this week discuss the successes in Iraq. You've recalled how our joint and coalition air and space forces blanketed the entire region with an umbrella of air dominance, enabling maritime forces and the ground component to operate without fear of attack from the sky. You've heard stories of the airmen who -- in the tradition of Doolittle's raiders -- developed new B-1 bomber tactics and brought precision firepower to bear against Iraqi leadership targets in minutes. We've celebrated the flexibility of airpower and the capability of our global mobility forces to adapt to the exigencies of coalition operations and conduct the largest combat airborne insertion of forces since D-Day at Normandy.

At AFA this week, we've saluted the airmen who have demonstrated the precision, flexibility, and speed of air and space power. They reflect the humanity and discipline of our airmen, their commitment to coalition operations, and above all, their courage in conflict.

The foundation of our success can be found in two simple concepts: teamwork and trust. This was a truly joint and coalition warfighting effort from planning to execution. Air, ground, maritime and space forces working together -- at the same time for the same objective -- not merely staying out of each other's way -- but orchestrated to produce a decisive outcome. And when our ground forces engaged with the enemy, they trusted that our airmen would be there -- either in advance of their attacks, or in support of their assaults. And we were there.

History will judge how well we sustain these accomplishments. We can feel good about the accomplishments of our colleagues, but we can't be complacent. There are still many areas where we need to improve.

General "Buzz" Moseley (Air Force Vice Chief of Staff) has been quite vocal in his concerns over the responsiveness of the Battle Damage Assessment process, and how traditional concepts of BDA need to be reevaluated in the current era. General Jumper made this same point yesterday. And, based on researching the Bomber Study of World War II, I also have argued this point since the late 1980s. We need to make this system as dynamic and responsive as our ability to strike; anything less undermines the inherent deterring and compelling effects airpower brings to our warfighting team.

We also can be proud of how space was integrated into the fight. The designation of a Space Coordinating Authority was a success and proved invaluable. We now need to accurately analyze the lessons we learned from this effort, and then codify those roles into our doctrine. We need to make sure we have the right staffing in the Combined Air Operations Center to support space missions, such as space control. And we need a space Common Operating Picture; not a series of PowerPoint slides representing one.

Of great concern to me was our difficulty in detecting and defending against air breathing land attack missiles. I've spoken and written of the emerging cruise missile threat for two decades. Iraqis killed seventeen U.S. sailors in 1987 with air launched, anti-ship, cruise missiles. Sixteen years later, we witnessed the Iraqis shoot six Seersucker missiles -- modified Chinese anti-ship Silkworms -- into Kuwait. The cruise missile threat is one that we must be prepared to meet in the future. It is one of the reasons that General Jumper and I have modified the F-22 program into the F/A-22 program.

Also, as John has pointed out many times, we need to ensure our air and space systems are talking to each other so we can integrate information at the machine-to-machine level and produce high-fidelity intelligence that results in a cursor over the target. Currently, we have too many obstacles and cultures in the way of achieving this vision.

Finally, we need to focus much more -- and now -- on what we can do to help our American and allied troops on patrol in Iraq, day after day, and night after night -- standing or going into harm's way. There are troopers, standing, riding, or walking into harm's way as we meet today. With all our brains, with all our technology, what are we doing to ensure that each soldier or Marine finishes his or her patrol or duty safely? What are we doing in this phase of the war to watch the "six" of those on the ground? Where is the Predictive Battlespace Analysis for that patrol? And, we must keep in mind that our ground component partners are not the only ones in harm's way -- Air Force airmen are running convoys from air bases in Iraq to Baghdad and they are patrolling outside the perimeters of our bases. They face the same dangers as our allied, Marine and Army brethren. Together, they are the cutting edge of our coalition's military power in Iraq today.


Just as we have drawn these combat lessons, there are powerful lessons that we must draw from the events and trends of the past four months.

We have witnessed major bombings, not of coalition targets in Iraq, but against those whose principal objectives are the introduction of institutions and values that support a free Iraq. The carnage of the bombings against the United Nation's headquarters in Baghdad and the holy temple in Najaf confirm the persistent threat posed by those who oppose freedom and tolerance. The rising insurrectional alliance between radical Islamic groups and the Baathists will prove to be yet another front in our war on terror. The reemergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan -- albeit small -- and its politics of assassination, and the expanding presence of terror groups in Morocco, Yemen, Indonesia, and other locales, remain a persistent threat to the values we all cherish.

These imperatives demand our action. They demonstrate beyond any doubt the truth of President Bush's oft-stated belief that this will be a long fight. To prevail, we must stay the course. Our enemies will test our collective commitment. We must bolster the resolve of our citizens, and those nations around the globe that share our love of freedom. And we must continue to invest in the capabilities that will allow us to prevail in conflict, whether in major conventional war or the asymmetric battles we increasingly face these days.

That is why in the Department we are committed to pursuing innovations, capabilities, and adaptations that will help us win the fights of today and tomorrow. As airmen, we have been evolving rapidly since the first Gulf War -- with the sole objective of improving our ability to generate overwhelming and strategically compelling effects from air and space. It is our heritage to adapt and we will continue to do so.

We will continue to pursue innovative strategies and evolve our doctrine to capture the best practices that work in today's asymmetric world. The use for the first time of the Air Component Coordination Element, led by Lieutenant General Dan Leaf (now Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command), was an idea that grew from the lessons learned in Operation Enduring Freedom. As I have mentioned many times, our air and ground components worked together marvelously, and in the tradition of Arnold and Patton, used the combination of our capabilities to great effect on the battlefield.

For instance, agile organizations help us prevail against new enemies. Task Force 20, the joint Special Forces team that won the battle for Western Iraq, and the 86th Contingency Response Group, the Air Force team that was first in to Kyrgyzstan and jumped into northern Iraq, are the kinds of teams we have in mind. We must shift from threat- and platform-centric thinking to capabilities and effects-based thinking.


The Challenge -- Sustaining our Dominance

While we are making progress in adapting the armed forces and our Air Force to these new challenges, we can do better. We must remember that we do not have a patent on "progress." Progress and technology belong to those who act. And advantage in warfighting goes to the nation -- or in the case of the current world environment, to the rogue group -- that figures out how to best use that technology to advance their cause.

The increasing proliferation of advanced surface-to-air missile systems will threaten our ability to gain and maintain air dominance. Man-portable surface-to-air missiles have proliferated extensively and tactical ballistic missile technology is spreading. An advanced fighter has already been produced that is superior to our best current-generation, legacy fighters. But, not better than the F/A-22. The threats to our information, communication, and computing systems are increasing. And, there are instances where our industrial capacity is being leveraged much more by other nations and not for the benefit of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

That is why Secretary Rumsfeld is so intent on continuing to transform our armed forces. In the Air Force, we will continue to pursue innovations that create new capabilities from legacy systems -- the addition of targeting pods on B-52s, the integration of real-time video from Predators to our AC-130 gunships and to Special Operators on the ground, and our recent adaptation of the B-2 bomber that General Jumper announced yesterday -- 80 GPS-guided weapons dropped from a single B-2. And every weapon hit within 40 feet of its intended target, from over 35,000 feet and 10 miles away, taking less time to target them than the usual eight hours for 16 JDAMs through machine-to-machine target data transfer.

Many of you I'm sure recall the impressive post-strike imagery of Serbian airfields in Operation Allied Force that were rendered unusable due to multiple precise strikes from a single B-2 bomber using a unique forerunner to the JDAM. The B-2 now gives us the capability to hold hostage five times the number of targets from a single airplane, and while reducing collateral damage risks by employing a 500-pound weapon instead of one that is 2,000-pounds.

In our acquisition world, we are making progress as well in getting stability in our programs. We have stabilized production of the C-17, buying 60 airplanes for the previous cost of 56.

Stable production in the F/A-22 program is also starting to produce cost savings. Earlier this year we exercised an option with Lockheed Martin adding one F/A-22 aircraft to the Lot 3 contact, increasing our buy to 21 airplanes - for the price of 20! We were able to make this happen through gains in supplier confidence, which led to reduced costs. With 65 percent of aircraft costs associated with over 1,400 suppliers in 46 states, a firm commitment to program stability is absolutely essential to create conditions where suppliers view efficiency gains as a path to increased orders.

Meanwhile, even as we manage the transition-to-production challenges of the F/A-22, we continue to adapt the Raptor to the era in which we find ourselves. General Jumper and I announced the new designation of the system at last year's AFA convention, and some folks commented at the time that it was all marketing fluff. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I can tell you that those people were about as accurate as the combat dispatches of Baghdad Bob at the Iraqi Information Ministry.

The F/A-22 has changed in a major way. With its suite of avionics, the development of new weapons, and an enhanced Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, we are transforming the world's greatest air dominance fighter into the world's supreme multi-role attack system, one that is nearly invisible to the enemy, and one able to hold hostage virtually any target -- no matter how heavily defended, no matter how deep in enemy territory. It will be the only system especially effective against mobile targets and land attack cruise missiles, due primarily to supercruise. And let me echo the comments of General Jumper from yesterday: the F/A-22 is a capability that is moving to the field now. The last of eight operational test aircraft arrived at Nellis (Air Force Base, Nev.) just two weeks ago, we've had seven in the air at the same time, and the first pilot training aircraft will be delivered to Tyndall (AFB, Fla.) later this month.

We are now focusing on preparations for successful operational test -- albeit with new but expected problems -- expanding the flight envelope, integrating weapons, and improving our maintenance processes. Our avionics and software stability are improving significantly as well. We remain confident that when this aircraft transitions is fielded in numbers, and the combatant commanders learn of its incredible capabilities, we will produce as many as we need to ensure our nation's continued security. But that is a decision for the future.

These are only a few examples of how we are adapting. From remotely piloted aircraft and the future E-10A battle management system to our new CAOCs and Smart Tankers, we are transforming our forces. It is what Secretary Rumsfeld challenged us to do -- and I'm proud to report that our uniformed, civilian and industry "airmen" are making it happen.

Building a Portfolio of Advantages

As we think about the challenges we face as a nation, our focus should be on those enduring sources of strength that give us the advantages we enjoy today -- in warfighting, technology, biomedical capabilities, in space, and economics, among many others. There is a growing body of thought that our defense strategy -- absent a peer competitor -- should be based on understanding and exploiting our inherent strengths; a strategy predicated on the idea that if we accurately assess our own comparative advantages and strengths, we can invest them to yield high rates of military return. Over time, we can manage portfolios of competencies that will help us to exploit our own asymmetric advantages well into the future.

In the Air Force, we share this view. Throughout our comparatively short, but distinguished history -- a birthday we will celebrate tomorrow -- we have remained the best at what we do because, first and foremost, of our professional airmen, our investment in warfighting technology, and our ability to integrate our people and systems together in new and innovative ways. These Air Force competencies are the foundation that will ensure we are prepared for the unknown threats of an uncertain future. They will ensure our joint forces continue to have the tools they need to maintain a broad and sustained advantage over any emerging adversaries. We must invest in education, training, and leader development. We need to prepare every member of our force -- officer, enlisted, and civilian -- with experience, assignments, and broadening that will allow them to succeed when we ask them to do the worthy work of our service. This is even more important when our airmen interact in the joint arena, whether as an Air Liaison Officer to a ground maneuver element, or as a space advisor to the Joint Force Commander. These competencies are the source of our enduring strength.

When I came to the Air Force over two years ago, I said that I would use as my measure of progress substantive improvements by the Air Force leadership team in four principal categories: first, in adapting strategy, doctrine, and concepts of operation appropriate for a new era of threats to our nation's security. Second, to fight the fights for capabilities, benefits, and improvements that support our airmen, their families, and their ability to accomplish our mission. Third, by gaining efficiencies in how we do the business of the Air Force; and, finally, in taking concrete measures to increase innovation in our industrial base.

I believe we made substantial progress in meeting each of these objectives, not only because of John Jumper and me but also because of our broad leadership team across the Air Force. But our work is not done, and whether or not I am confirmed by the Senate and depart to serve as Secretary of the Army, our wonderful Air Force must stay this course. If I do become Secretary of the Army, you can all rest assured that I will bring forward the great lessons and best practices I have learned from so many airmen throughout the Air Force, and that I will devote much of my energy to seeing the promise of air-ground collaboration realized in ways that would make Generals Arnold and Patton proud.


As we join this week -- and later this year at Kitty Hawk -- to celebrate the centennial anniversary of our powered ascent into the skies, we more fully grasp the increasingly vital role our Air Force plays in helping to defend our nation, assure our friends and allies, and win our wars. And in terms of its effect on society, commerce, and exploration, Bill Gates captured the contributions of powered flight best when he said:

"The Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing."

From a man and a company that has created another cultural force of global magnitude, we all can be proud of what we do as airmen, serving the cause of freedom.

Congratulations to the Air Force Association for a great event, to the award winners here today for your great achievements, and to every "airman" present for your continuing contributions to this nation and the free world.

Happy birthday to the United States Air Force, and may God bless each and every one of you.