A renewed Air Force emphasis on the war-fighting science and technology of the future may boost the importance of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the heart of Air Force research and logistics work.
Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) — which is based at Wright-Patterson — said the new Air Force “Science and Technology Strategy” is the fruit of months of research and expert testimony, resulting in far more than a targeted list of powerful new technologies.
Cooley expects AFRL and the base to play a leading role in the development of new capabilities, including hypersonic (faster than sound) flight, artificial intelligence, machine learning and far more.
“I fully expect that the men and women of the U.S Air Force Research Laboratory will be key implementors in making this happen,” Cooley said Thursday in remarks at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
“The Air Force Research Laboratory has been the heart and soul, the cornerstone of Air Force science and technology,” Cooley also said. “It’s headquartered here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I fully expect to continue to see the development and the eco-system that we have developed here, not just at Wright-Patterson … but nationally.”
AFRL has research and functional directorates located across the nation.
The new Air Force strategy will involve science and technology stakeholders, “brilliant engineers” and key universities, among other resources, Cooley said.
He stressed that it will involve academia. The two-star general said his message to universities was: “Stay tuned and plugged in” for new research opportunities.
Both the University of Dayton and Wright State University have deep links to Air Force and military research work. The University of Dayton Research Institute performed $149.8 million in sponsored research in fiscal year 2018, with more than 90 percent of that work tied to federal contracts, including contracts with the Department of Defense.
“The base, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force science and technology enterprise has made shifts in the past,” Cooley said. “We have made decisions to get out of some areas, and we’ve moved into other areas based on the technology needs of the Air Force.”
That work will continue, he said.
In September 2017, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson launched an initiative to update the Air Force’s approach to science and technology, and over the course of the next 18 months, Air Force leaders said they listened and learned from representatives of the scientific community, higher education and business.
The Air Force wants to focus on new ways to gather information and project power, emphasizing areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, developing low-cost air and space platforms, hypersonic flight capability and more.
“Our strategy isn’t just a list of technologies,” Wilson said in a statement Wednesday. “Our approach will be to predict where adversaries cannot easily go and make sure the Air Force gets there first.”
The focus will also feature the naming of a “chief technology officer” for the Air Force.
Wright-Patterson, the heart of Air Force research and logistics work, is sure to be key to whatever strategy is unveiled.
In recent years, American defense leaders have pointed to a gradually more apparent “great power competition,” mainly with China and Russia, a marked shift away from the War on Terror that has dominated since Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is driven by the national defense strategy and the reemergence of great power competition,” Cooley said.
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