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Air Force secretary discusses tankers, cyber operations

by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

4/7/2008 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFPN) -- The secretary of the Air Force spoke of the future while reflecting on the past during an April 3 and 4 visit to Hanscom Air Force Base.

"For all the advances we've made, I still believe there are more imaginative things to be done with electronics," Secretary Michael W. Wynne said.

He said he considered Hanscom AFB, which is home to the Electronic Systems Center and the base where he was first stationed, the right place for this additional innovation.

"I remember being here as a brand new second lieutenant," he said. "Back then, I was working on digital switches before anyone had ever heard of digital switches."

Secretary Wynne said ESC and Hanscom AFB still provide a critical "nexus of all the advances of electronics for the benefit of the warfighter."

Going forward, it's increasingly important to be able to fuse the information and get it to the tactical warfighter, Secretary Wynne said. The center has worked hard to break down information-system stovepipes and is now offering "a much more collective approach to how we share data."

The secretary witnessed some current examples of this approach. In one demonstration, Secretary Wynne watched a tactical air control party Airman nominate a target, which had been derived through machine-to-machine interface, for close-air support and then automatically transfer the coordinates into the cockpit, streamlining the simulated kill chain.

This sort of rapid, digital information sharing is at the heart of Air Force and joint effectiveness, the secretary said.

"The acquisition and disposition of information for command and control purposes is going to be where the Air Force lives," he said. "Many in the Air Force would say that it's really our flying and fighting that is our hallmark, but many others would say that they're in the information distribution business.

"That's really why space and cyber occupy two-thirds of our mission space," Secretary Wynne said. "It's all about collection, and making sure we get the right information into the hands of the theater and combatant commanders who make the difference in synergizing the war."

Because of this, "the Electronic Systems Center has a tremendous role to play for a long time to come," the secretary said.

He addressed other key acquisition issues, too. Speaking of the need to recapitalize, he said, "It's mandatory, so I'm he optimistic."

If the Air Force doesn't stay on track, it will simply age out the fleet. "At some point in time, we simply have to recapitalize," Secretary Wynne said.

He also touched on the recent decision to award the KC-45 tanker contract to a consortium co-led by European-based EADS Corp. and U.S.-based Northrop Grumman. He acknowledged that some have been critical of the decision, but he believes that criticism is unfounded.

"It's the law," he said flatly, noting that the Air Force could not have restricted the competition if it had wanted to.

He also reiterated that the competition was "free, open and above-board," saying that the Air Force made the right decision in terms of overall warfighter value. He also said he believes the Government Accountability Office, now conducting a review based on a protest by losing bidder Boeing, "will conclude with the fact that the Air Force, in this case, did it right."

Opening competition to allied-nation corporations is neither new nor unusual, the secretary said, citing several examples of international participation in the U.S. defense industrial base.

"The presidential helicopter was won by an Italian design. The Navy helicopter was won by an international design. So this is not unique," he said.

Secretary Wynne also addressed the decision to treat cyber as a mission component on par with air and space, speaking of the national implications of cyber attacks and about the role the Homeland Security Department is playing. As for the Defense Department, Secretary Wynne said the need to protect and control cyberspace is clearly no less important.

"In defense, we call ourselves a net-centric fighting force," he said, stressing the criticality of cyber operations as enablers of all others.

"Cyber is clearly a warfighting domain," he said, emphasizing again that he's looking for ESC officials to provide many of the solutions that will allow the Air Force and DOD to enjoy the same dominance it now has in both air and space.

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