Thursday 18, July 2019

Langley crier spring2018 icon
The Langley Crier
Spring 2018

"AFA Air Warfare Symposium"

AFA Langley Chapter sponsored an essay contest to select three active duty airmen to attend the 2018 AFA Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, FL as guests of the Chapter. TSgt Jessica Field, TSgt Anastasia Simmons and TSgt Bahnan Black were the winners. Below, in TSgt Black’s words and TSgt Field’s images, is a report on the events of the Symposium and our Air Force. Thanks to them for their insights!
AWS1 imageThe Symposium had a dual purpose. On one hand, it was an opportunity for industry leaders to display their developments in advanced air combat technologies. On the other hand, it was an opportunity for Air Force leaders to influence a culture of change in the way we operate as a strategic force.

When referencing the 2018 National Defense Strategy, our focus has to shift towards facing a peer status adversary. There is no one in today’s Air force that has faced that threat. One of the first culture changes that has happened this year is a reduction in Air Force Instructions. The purpose of this was to place more responsibility and ownership down to the Wing and Squadron levels. In a peer status conflict, there is a real possibility that we will have degraded communications that limit our ability to use our formal decision making construct. It is vitally important that we empower our airmen to be innovative and make decisions at the smallest level rather than micro-managing them with instructions.

AWS2 imageThis sets the entire tone for the Symposium from a culture shift standpoint. A large portion of this culture shift must stem from acknowledging our current shortcomings that stifle innovation. In most military organizations there is a frozen middle ground that prevents those new ideas from having an audience or being integrated. Too often our Airmen are faced with a NO from someone in their chain of command that does not have the power to even say YES. This is largely based on the thought that truly innovative ideas cause disruption to our status quo. That disruption can be uncomfortable and even negative. Now that we have more control at the Wing level, we must embrace those disruptive ideas to allow for the positive cultural transformation that we desire.

One way that we can do this is by creating a Wing culture of failing forward with ideas and concepts. We need to help airmen thrive and get to the eventual YES. Ideas often get dismissed due to assuming they will fail before they even take off the ground. The first annual Spark Tank was displayed at the symposium. Airmen across the Air Force competed. Five teams were given the opportunity to pitch their ideas to the Secretary of the Air Force, Chief of Staff, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. Staff Sergeants were able to pitch ideas to the highest level of our Air Force and were immediately paired with resources to turn their ideas into reality.

AWS3 imageWe can do the same thing at our Wing. I think it would a highly successful initiative with morale, retention, and innovation to implement a Spark Tank at our base. The core idea behind it is creating open dialogue beyond the frozen middle. Airmen can be paired directly with mentorship and resources. Probing questions should be encouraged and designed to see how we can remove barriers and realize a reality; not poking holes or finding a way to say no. We are in an exponentially evolving game and have to find new ways to win. We must allow people to flourish and mold their careers and thrive. Small groups that are allowed to innovate and even disrupt, being shielded from bureaucracy sets a tone for how serious we are about positive transformation. Most will fail. But, the ones that succeed will pay for the rest.

The Air Force Chief of Staff directly supports this concept. His remarks, at the symposium, were think big, start small, and scale quickly. He paired those remarks with a commitment of 64 million dollars in funding to wings across the Air Force for innovation. For most of our history, the military has operated in a risk adverse manner. When crisis hits, suddenly the reward becomes more important and we act. This new culture is about adapting and innovating before crisis hits. The Air Force has also dedicated programs like AFWERX and AF CONNECT purely for prototyping ideas and plans.

AWS4 imageThis focus on innovation culture was meant to compliment that technology displayed by industry. The Mitchell Institute discussed some revolutionary thinking regarding our future force sizing strategies. One of the main focuses for our force posturing is network-centric, multi-domain operations. Industry has made significant progress toward our need for exponential growth. There are cutting edge developments in machine learning, artificial reality, and data manipulation that all can play key roles in the way we establish air superiority in the future.

That future is closer than we think. The threat of peer adversaries has motivated us as an Air Force to grow and find new ways to Fly, Fight, and Win. The Chief of Staff, General Goldfein’s main priorities for new developments in industry and acquisitions for the Air Force are based on three questions. Does it connect? Does it share? Does it learn? This is the new vision of how we fight. Similarly, in his closing remarks,AWS5 imageGeneral Holmes tied innovation and industry developments together perfectly. "The warfighter’s edge is innovative airmen that have support to be disruptive.” Essentially, we won’t maintain pace with peer adversaries by building more airplanes or lobbying for a bigger defense budget.

In summary, I am inspired and humbled to have attended this event. I was surrounded by so many great military minds and strategic thinking. I love the direction that we are heading as a force and am reinvigorated to my role as a part of that team. To me, our edge is our compassion for our people. Adversaries may be able to stand equal ground from a technological view but they can never match the value we place on individuals at every level in our Chain of Command. Opportunities like this Symposium are fantastic ways to display that value to our Airmen and motivate their involvement. I would like to make these events more accessible to our Airmen in the future. It is so important that I would be willing to pledge financial support myself. Thank you for the opportunity and the value you place on my input.

TSgt Bahnan Black, Virginia ANG
Intelligence Operations Analyst
192 Operations Support Squadron

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