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Change Creates Challenge, Opportunity for Air Force, Vice Chief Says

Gen. Wilson
Gen. Wilson
Washington Report

Change is good. Technology has helped connect the world, it’s pulled people out of poverty, increased educational opportunities and led to a worldwide population boom, according to Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, the vice chief of staff of the Air Force.

But that change is also creating unique challenges for the U.S. military, and specifically the Air Force, Wilson said during the 141st General Conference & Exhibition.

Speaking to NGAUS in the Bellco Theatre in Denver, the Air Force’s No. 2 uniformed officer spoke of how the Guard fits into efforts to address those challenges.

Active, Guard, Reserve or civilians. “We have to be all in,” Wilson said.

The Guard has never been more important to the nation’s defense, he said. And that importance will only grow in the future ahead.

“You play a critical role,” Wilson said.

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace and scale that threatens to challenge the U.S. role as the nation’s strongest military.

Wilson urged officials from all states, territories and the District of Columbia to speak openly of that threat to instill the sense of urgency the nation needs.

China, he said, poses the biggest threat.  Their economy is as large or bigger than America’s, their population dwarfs the U.S. and they are producing STEM graduates at a much higher rate.

Wilson described the competition between China and the U.S. as a battle of culture. He said China has a plan to be the dominant military and dominant nation in the world in the coming decades.

“They are all in to win,” he said. “And they don’t care how they win.”

“I just want to frame the competition we face as a nation,” Wilson added. “We must develop a sense of urgency…We have to stop thinking we’re Goliath and start thinking like we’re David.”

To prepare for future fights, the military must control the ultimate high ground. It must integrate resilient cyber, communications, space and other capabilities with more traditional combat power to present multiple dilemmas for adversaries.

“The key is cyber and space,” Wilson said. “If we lose either one of those, the Joint Force loses.”

The Air Force’s not-so-secret weapon, which gives the nation an advantage over its adversaries, he said, is individual airmen who are able to innovate and evolve.

“Our job is to unleash those airmen,” Wilson said. “To provide them the right education, the right training, the right experience and the right development to make sure they are prepared and ready… provide tools and capability to be able to deter competition, but if deterrence fails, to be able to fight and win.”

The Air Force is embracing technology accelerators and looking for ways to build new capabilities “at the speed of relevance.”

It took the U.S. eight years to land on the moon and return, Wilson noted. “Today, we often can’t get the paperwork done in eight years.”

Without change, the military faces the potential for new capabilities to be obsolete before they are fully developed.

“Speed wins,” he said.