WASHINGTON, — The Defense Department’s three lines of effort include building a more lethal force, strengthening international partnerships and reforming business practices of military departments and DoD itself, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this morning.
Mattis delivered the keynote address on the final day of the Air Force Association’s annual Air and Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, to a standing room only audience of defense officials, legislators and soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
The secretary spoke about the department’s current efforts, but he also had words for the airmen.
The Air Force is a reminder, he said, that American has two fundamental sources of power — inspiration and intimidation.
“You represent rightly the power of intimidation, even though you are often the … most reassuring ambassadors to allies and friends who are trying to keep the peace,” Mattis said.
“And whether it’s safeguarding the nuclear deterrent or air combat mobility, to space, to personnel management processes and policies, and everything in between, your actions must meet one standard, and that is to make the U.S. Air Force more lethal every day that you serve,” he added.
Lethality and Readiness
U.S. adversaries are making concentrated efforts to erode the nation’s competitive edge, Mattis said.
“You know it, I know it, and we can see it in the world around us,” he said.
Some nations that are challenging U.S. dominance in the air are doing so through a proliferation of advanced integrated air defense networks plus fifth-generation aircraft, the secretary said, noting that space is contested and cyberspace, the newest domain, is contested in an operating realm at the tactical, operational and strategic levels of conflict.
“That means that we took several thousand years of war on land and sea, and it took us about 100 years to get another domain, air, brought to the position we’re in today,” Mattis said. “And then in the last 10 years, we’ve seen basically two new domains mature into warfighting realms on us. Never in history has this happened in our past.”
“If we fail to adapt … at the speed of relevance, then our military forces and our Air Force will lose the very technical and tactical advantages we’ve enjoyed since World War II,” the secretary said.
He added, “I believe the problem we face today is how [to] maintain a nuclear deterrent and a decisive conventional force while maintaining irregular warfare as a core competency.”
A safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent “is there to ensure that a war that can never be won is never fought … [and] I am absolutely convinced that having this safe, secure and effective deterrent is … the most critical piece of our nation’s defense,” Mattis said.
In terms of damage to military readiness, Mattis said nothing has done more than continuing resolutions and the lack of budgetary predictability.
“If Congress restores managerial integrity over the budget, this will enable us to invest in critical warfighting capabilities, including in space and cyberspace, where we need new starts in order to take advantage of what our industry can deliver if we are willing to invest there,” he said.
“I think, too, we have to look at how we conduct in the future global strike, close air support, global intelligence, global mobility, global surveillance [and] global command and control,” Mattis added.
Strengthening Alliances, Partnerships
In his long military career, Mattis said he never fought in an all-American formation.
“I’ve always fought alongside coalition partners,” he said during his discussion of the importance of strengthening international alliances and partnerships and building new partnerships.
Nations with allies thrive and those without allies decline, he added.
“So to our allies and any partners here in this room, I would just say thank you for standing with us,” the secretary said.
To the American officers in the room, Mattis said, “we must be willing to do more than to listen to our allies; we must be willing to be persuaded by them.”
Not all the good ideas, he added, come from the nation with the most aircraft carriers.
“I think this is absolutely critical,” the secretary said, “and we have to recognize that our organizations, our processes and procedures, have got to be ally friendly, they’ve got to be welcoming.”
Reforming Business Practices
On reforming business practices, Mattis said the department must make more effective use of the people’s treasury.
”The heart of our competitive edge … is reforming the department and its business processes and gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar,” he said.
Reforming the department is going to require that the acquisition enterprise is transformed, he said.
“We’re looking at how we break that out between software and hardware to take advantage of software development. Do we really need to have the same procedures when we’re doing a small program as when we’re doing a major aircraft program? All these things are being looked at and I’ve got some great people coming in to help,” Mattis said.
Transforming the enterprise, the secretary said, “will require delegating decision authority in many cases to the outer edges of the enterprises to unleash the great ideas we find among our bright and committed airmen. It’s also important to integrate this across the joint force, because the real strength we’ve exhibited over 16 years of war is jointness.”