HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson emphasized the priorities demanded by the new National Defense Strategy and Hanscom’s vital role in meeting them during a town hall here April 5.
The NDS states the U.S. is back in an era of great power competition, and provides information on where the Defense Department is and what it needs to be looking at and doing going forward.
Speaking about the need for innovation, Wilson emphasized that the U.S. and the Air Force have been dominant but are now facing more capable potential adversaries and need to move innovation forward to secure the future.
“This makes this base more important now than perhaps at any time since the second World War,” she said. “You have to drive innovation to lead innovation.”
During her two-day visit to the base and the area, Wilson got to see a number of areas where innovation is being applied, from Hanscom program offices to local Federally Funded Research and Development Centers and the Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator for the Air Force.
At the call, cost-effective modernization was another priority the secretary mentioned. The Air Force needs to modernize across the board, not just aircraft, but also weapon systems, over the next decade. And it needs to be cost-effective.
“Every $1 given to us as service members is $1 someone earned that they trusted to us. It’s our job to try and get $1.10 of value out of that $1,” she said.
She also spoke about strengthening alliances, developing and deepening those partnerships, highlighting that foreign military sales, in which Hanscom plays a significant role, will be a core part of the strategy.
“Even non-traditional partnerships will be part of our strength moving forward,” Wilson said. “Troops with allies succeed and those without fail.”
Readiness was another topic, where the secretary told a story about viewing readiness charts for her confirmation hearing and believing that the numbers were mistakenly inverted.
“We’ve been doing much with too little for too long,” she said. “We have to restore readiness if we’re going to be prepared to deter and defend against all enemies.”
Wilson also stressed the need for developing “exceptional” leaders, saying the culture to grow leaders is set at the squadron or equivalent level.
During the question and answer period the secretary discussed a number of topics, including cyber security, owning the technical baseline and ancillary training. However, one item that Hanscom personnel were pleased to hear about was legitimate authority delegation. Congress has given authorities back to the defense level and Wilson said none are being kept at her level.
“I want program managers to be managing their programs, not the Pentagon,” she said.
When asked what the most difficult part of her job is, she said it’s going to Dover when fallen Airmen arrive.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure people are well trained, well prepared and well supported, so if they have to go into combat we give them the best chance we have of them coming home.”