The Air Force will launch a nationwide listening tour to find out what technology it may target in the future in the face of adversaries gaining technological advances faster, a top Air Force Research Laboratory leader says.
Air Force researchers have in recent years focused top priorities on developing aircraft and missiles that travel at hypersonic speeds, autonomy in machines like drones, and directed-energy weapons such as airborne lasers and microwave-zapping missiles, but AFRL Chief Technology Officer Morley O. Stone said the goal is to go beyond that.
“We are not moving fast enough, not only with the world around us, but we’re not moving fast enough with the way potential adversaries are looking at and adopting technology,” Stone said.
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AFRL is leading the study ordered by the Air Force’s top leaders: Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. “There’s no part of this study that we’re not driving here from this locale,” Stone said in an interview at AFRL headquarters at Wright-Patterson.
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Starting in March and through July, the tour will travel to 14 sites — a number that could grow larger if more institutions show interest by the end of next month in hosting an event, he said.
AFRL has a website — afresearchlab.com/2030 — where ideas can be submitted by anyone.
“In a world where far more innovation is happening outside the government than inside it, connecting to the broader scientific enterprise is vital,” Wilson said in a statement.
The tour is scheduled to make stops from coast to coast, though none are in Ohio. The closest stops to Dayton are in Indianapolis between May 6-11 in a forum hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association; and in Cincinnati between July 9-11 in a session partnered with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
“We do so much with the institutions here … that the feeling was let’s go out and listen to those parts of the country where they don’t often interact with the Air Force,” Stone said.
Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Air Force must focus not only on technology, but how quickly it can be added to the force.
“Space is a prime example because so much of the innovation right now is coming from outside the government,” he said in an email. “The Air Force needs to develop a better approach to identify new commercial space technologies and services that can benefit the military, rapidly incorporate these technologies and data products into the force (in months rather than years), and adapt its operational concepts and training to take full advantage of them.”
One technology showing future potential is in the emerging area of quantum sciences, Stone said.
“Countries around the world are making huge investments in that area,” the chief researcher said. “There are advancements occurring in that area almost daily so (we’re) trying to figure out how do we stay on top of that … and incorporate some of those advancements into our portfolio as quickly as possible.”
Advances in quantum sciences, which for example studies how matter interacts at the atomic level, could led to more secure encryption of communications “impervious to eavesdropping” and more advanced sensors, he said.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, an architect of the air war against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, emphasized the importance of technology to advance military strategy.
“Advanced technologies drive new concepts of operation that enable advantages over potential adversaries – that is what happened during Desert Storm,” he said in an email to this newspaper.
Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, noted the impact of stealth and precision strike led to an operational plan “that paralyzed and then shut down the fourth largest military in the world. That can happen again by capitalizing on advanced technologies in a similar fashion.”
The retired three-star general added while technology advancements are required, “new warfighting capability will only be realized through a paradigm shift in the manner in which we think about warfare more than simply applying new technologies to old ways of conducting warfare.”
AFRL will turn in its findings to the Air Force’s top leadership later this year.