NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Airmen from across the world gathered in person and online for Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Sept. 20-22.
Among attendees were a number of Airmen from throughout the Pacific Air Forces area of responsibility, to further expand their knowledge of and lethality within the Indo-Pacific.
“It was a very successful Air, Space and Cyber conference because it allowed significant dialogue between Department of the Air Force senior leaders, Airmen, Guardians, industry and the media for the last three days,” said Gen. Ken Wilsbach, PACAF commander. “It’s always valuable to have meaningful face-to-face interactions with your fellow Airmen and joint and allies and partner teammates who are thinking about what airpower delivers in support of national security. I’m glad to see we are laser-focused on competing with near-peer adversaries like China and Russia as we implement the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s strategy of ‘Accelerate Change or Lose’ and his associated action orders. The conference highlighted the importance of what PACAF Airmen are doing ever day.”
One of the key themes that seemed to stand out to attendees was that the Air Force needs to continue to innovate in order to outpace, out maneuver and outsmart its number one pacing adversary—China.
“I think the key message was and is China,” said Col. Kirsten Aguilar, 673rd Air Base Wing commander. “As a commander, it reinforces everything we’re training for and the importance of the readiness of our forces in the Indo-Pacific. It highlights that we will continue to fight through COVID-19 and be ready to fight tonight. I think the Secretary of the Air Force’s message to Congress, industry, and other governmental departments highlights the barriers and constraints we face, and where we need help to accomplish our mission.”
A key focus area was how does the department remain the dominant airpower in a region that five out of eight nuclear-weapons capable nations reside. One of the critical aspects for an effective strategy was continuing to build and leverage relationships with our Allies and Partners.
“As you listen to everything this week, you kept hearing a consistent theme…China. Being in the Pacific, it was important for our Airmen—especially those who live with China, Russia and North Korea in our backyard—to know about our peer competitors and focus them on our mission sets. The discussions also showcased how important our Allies and Partners are to keeping a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Chief Master Sgt. Katie McCool, 5th Air Force command chief. “We have the most knowledgeable, capable and prepared Airmen, and this conference builds upon that and makes them more lethal. Our Airmen are doing agile combat employment every day, and this conference highlights why that is important for us to compete. The Air, Space and Cyber conference gave us an opportunity to get the knowledge and education everyone needs to be focused on a peer competitor.”
Since its inception in 1946, the Air Force Association has given opportunities for Airmen to meet with and hear a number of national security topics that directly impact them, their missions and their families.
“As in years past, AFA is one of the premier professional development opportunities for our Airmen and Guardians,” said Chief Master Sgt. Dave Wolfe, PACAF command chief. “I was especially pleased to see the integration of our enlisted corps and family members in all facets of this year’s agenda. With our unique challenges in the Indo-Pacific, events like this help highlight our aspirations for ACE and show our already lethal capabilities as we work together with allies and partners to ensure a rules-based international order.”
PACAF’s top two leaders, Wilsbach and Wolfe, served as panel members during the conference and shared PACAF’s mission and capabilities with all in attendance and those viewing online.
Wilsbach spoke about how ACE and how the multi-capable Airmen concept is crucial in challenging China by maintaining air dominance in the region.
“If you look at what China has been doing over the past several years, and the number of places they’ve been expanding and imposing Chinese will, they are doing so in manner that is counter to the international rules-based order and a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” Wilsbach said during his ACE panel discussion. “We need to challenge China & Russia Every. Single. Day.”
In order to challenge China and Russia, Airmen must understand what role they play and most importantly be educated on the threat environment.
“The best leadership advice I can give,” said Wolfe during his Command Chief’s Perspective panel discussion. “We have a responsibility to educate, down to our lowest ranking Airman about China. They need to understand the level of competition we are in every day.”
While many Airmen attended the Air, Space and Cyber Conference to gain that insight, they all also got the chance to speak to other Airmen and to get a glimpse of that.
“AFA existed before our service; it’s an organization that advocates, educates and supports our force,” McCool said. “I encourage everyone to check it out and use it to become more knowledgeable and educated.”
With topics ranging from Force Mix of the Future to Information Warfare, the conference highlighted areas and conversations in which Airmen and Guardians were able to participate in, ask questions and become more informed.
While at the conference, Wilsbach was able to meet with civic leaders, media and industry partners to discuss the Indo-Pacific region, the challenges he faces as the leader of Pacific Air Forces and how he plans to overcome those challenges.
“I especially valued the industry touch points because it allowed them to hear directly from me what I think the needs are for the service in the Indo-Pacific theater, and in turn ask them to work with the Department of the Air Force leaders to get solutions,” Wilsbach said. “I also liked the opportunities to speak with the media, think tank members and Air Force civic leaders about what great work PACAF Airmen are doing while answering their questions about how we are focused on competition and deterrence to keep a free and open Indo-Pacific. It was time well spent.”