Among the U.S. Air Force’s top modernization priorities will be the integration of autonomous systems to counter high-tech potential adversaries, China and Russia, Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones said on Nov. 30.
“Certainly, there are lots of opportunities when it comes to autonomous systems and how we better connect some of those,” she told the Air Force Association’s (AFA) Air and Space Warfighters in Action forum when asked by AFA president Bruce “Orville” Wright to identify top modernization needs. “In a high attrition fight, there is certainly value in having a lot of attritable targets. This is also in the interest of making sure that we are being good stewards of the American taxpayers’ dollars.”
Ortiz Jones also suggested that the Department of the Air Force needs to accelerate the fielding of enhanced space capabilities, in part to offset the recent anti-satellite test by Russia and the hypersonic test by China, and she said that the “window is closing” on the opportunity to field some systems that will counter China and Russia in a timely fashion–unless Congress agrees to retiring older systems that will not be survivable and relevant in high-tech conflicts.
In September, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber conference that he has broached to Congress retiring such older systems in a package akin to the much maligned Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. The latter would mean lawmakers could only give an up or down vote on the package, rather than weighing in on each system to which they may have a parochial interest.
Asked at the AFA forum on Nov. 30 about the importance of a modern sensor grid and the future of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the Department of the Air Force, Ortiz Jones said that “when we talk about the capabilities and how quickly they can come online, industry is gonna be critical to that.”
“When we think about ISR, what’s important is ensuring that we are thinking about this not just from an Air Force perspective, but also from a [U.S.] Space Force perspective,” said Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer. “There are many things that frankly just make a lot of sense to do from space, in the interest of resiliency and capability. We’ve got to make some strategic shifts in the interests of resiliency and making sure we have the capabilities. Secretary Kendall will talk about our space architecture. It’s one of our strategic advantages, but we’ve got to make sure it continues to be that and how might we identify some opportunities in the ISR domain in the space realm.”
While the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office have undertaken a Space Based Radar effort to replace the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint STARS ground moving target indicator aircraft, L3Harris Technologies [LHX] and SpaceX are each building four satellites for the Space Development Agency (SDA) as an initial SDA stab at monitoring threats from hypersonic and other advanced missiles.