Modernization is central to preserving the Joint Force's competitive edge, the chief of the National Guard Bureau recently said.
While modernization takes time and resources, innovation and improving weapons systems and equipment can help the process, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson added.
“Modernization is competitive and underfunded," Hokanson said during the 2022 Air Reserve Component Weapons and Tactics Conference in Tucson, Arizona, last month.
“There is competition for resources and not enough funding to spend our way out of this challenge," he told hundreds of Guardsmen and Reservists at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
"That’s where you come in. Where we cannot outspend, we can out-work, out-compete and out-innovate."
The Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve Command Test Center host the Weapons and Tactics Conference each year.
The event identifies critical capability shortfalls in Air Guard and Air Force Reserve weapons systems, missions and training priorities.
The AATC handles operational and developmental evaluations, tactics development and analyzes all Air Reserve Component weapons systems.
The unit's mission is to meet field-driven initiatives for those systems by rapidly testing critical requirements.
Hokanson said now is the time to identify capability gaps and how to close them.
“Your contributions will help us make the most of the budget we have — maximizing our capability, capacity and readiness per dollar,” he said.
“Your perspectives from the cockpits, flight lines and front lines of our Air National Guard and Reserve will help us maintain — and build — our competitive advantage," Hokanson continued.
“What you do here makes a difference — the difference between victory and defeat, and the difference between life and death."
Hokanson cited the Air Guard's 25 fighter squadrons — many of which employ legacy platforms — as targets for modernization.
He named the Vermont Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing — the first Guard unit to base the F-35A Lightning II — as a modernization success story for the Guard.
The NGB chief said a fully modernized and lethal U.S. military is essential to worldwide security and stability.
Hokanson cited the 158th and its fleet of fifth-generation fighters as an example of the Guard's global contributions.
The 158th supported NATO’s enhanced air policing mission in May to deter further aggression from Russia in Eastern Europe.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, plunging Europe into its worst conflict in generations.
“As a member of the Joint Chiefs, my job is to give my best military advice about defending our nation, the collective defense of our allies and partners and protecting the free and open rules-based international order,” Hokanson said.
"And right now, at this moment in history, these things are at risk," he argued.
Many Guardsmen have spent their careers training for and fighting in counterinsurgency environments.
“Now the landscape is different,” Hokanson said. "The threat is different. And it will require a different approach.”
Ultimately, Hokanson claimed, people are the deciding factor in modernization.
The general urged listeners to keep pushing the limits to solve present and future challenges.
“Keep asking hard questions," Hokanson said. "Keep modernizing and innovating."
"Keep challenging the limitations set before you, and keep faith in what’s possible," he concluded. "Keep up the fight."
“You are the experts, the warriors and the leaders. The future is up to you.”