In this special two-part interview, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson details the USAF commitment to space, overhauling acquisition to develop new technologies and her breakfast meetings with the other service secretaries.
It’s been a busy few months for the United States Air Force — from the first FY19 defense budget hearings to the announcement that international partners will join U.S. airmen to train for future space operations. In an interview with Government Matters, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that space has increasingly become an extremely competitive arena, and with China and Russia developing anti-satellite weapons, innovation in space is more important than ever to the service’s mission. “It is really the threat that is driving us. As an example, we have satellites that do missile warnings. They see the plumes of rockets as they take off. We had two very large satellites that we were planning to build. They don’t move very well, they are stationary. In a crisis or war, they could be disabled,” Wilson said. “We cancelled those two satellites. And instead, we will be moving to next generation missile warning, smaller satellites with the ability to maneuver and defend itself. We will do that four years faster than we would have done with large satellites.” Acquisition modernization was on the forefront of Wilson’s to-do list. She said that because the service is always on the cutting edge of technology, they need to be able to move quickly and experiment with new prototypes. However, she also emphasized the need for “cost-effective modernization.” “That means somebody earned every dollar they give to the United States Air Force, and our job is to make sure we use that dollar to protect the people, and get $1.10 for every dollar we spend. Somebody earned that dollar and we shouldn’t waste any money that is given to us,” Wilson told Government Matters “A light attack aircraft costs maybe 2000 dollars an hour to operate. Compared to very capable F-22, that is probably over 10 times that much. We should use the equipment that we need to do the job, but not the most expensive and exquisite stuff all of the time.” Wilson said that the working breakfast meetings between the three service secretaries are something that benefits all the military branches. Every two weeks, Wilson, Army Secretary Mark Esper and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer meet for a discussion of military developments. “It really started when we were facing some similar problems and we just started getting together for breakfast to talk about them. Some of the initial things were, we decided to look at the research and development portfolios to see what each other were doing, and whether or not we can leverage off of each other’s technology and success,” Wilson said. “That has already resulted in some changes going to our hypersonics program. The warhead we’re going to be testing was developed by the Army through DARPA and it was going to go on a Navy system, but it was a little too big. And we said ‘well, I think we can test that.’ It is those kinds of things that build the collaborative spirit to get stuff done.”