SHEILA E. WIDNALLSecretary of the United States Air Force
Good evening, and thank you for that warm welcome. It is a pleasure to be included this evening in such an important forum. I am particularly interested in the subject, since it represents the intersection of my main interests these days: Science and technology, national security, and economic policies.
You have asked me this evening to discuss the relationship between science and technology and the Air Force, and the resulting impact on national security. I would like to broaden that issue somewhat to discuss this relationship as an example of the more general partnership between the federal government and the scientific and technical community.
Like all enduring relationships, that between the federal government and the scientific community is constantly evolving. Federal spending on research at universities and in industry is an investment in the future. It provides basic research results upon which industry builds robust applications, and it grooms the future generations of scientists and engineers who function as our engine of economic growth.
The benefits of this relationship extend well beyond generating research results and producing scientists. Faculties at universities and their industrial counterparts play an invaluable but perhaps less visible role providing independent scientific advice to federal agencies as individuals or members of advisory committees. At a time when some may question the value of this partnership, it is useful to reflect on past benefits that set the stage for future rewards.
For the past five decades there has been just such a relationship between the Air Force and the scientific community. This past November, here at the Academy, the United States Air Force celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Since its founding, the SAB assembled this nation's premier scientists from universities and industry to provide independent scientific advice to the Air Force. It was the first scientific board established by a branch of the military services and one of the oldest in our government. The charter of the SAB is to seek out science and technology on and over the horizon which might change the character of war and help defend this nation. Members of the SAB also provide input to meeting today's challenges. Their advice is invaluable! They are our corporate memory!
Fifty year ago, in the closing months of World War II, General Henry "Hap" Arnold challenged Dr. Theodore von Karman to search the world for the most advanced scientific ideas and to project them into the future. Von Karman brought together a team of our foremost scientists, the inaugural SAB, who responded with what became one of the world's premier technological forecasts: Toward New Horizons. With remarkable foresight, von Karman's team predicted supersonic aircraft, pilotless aircraft, all-weather flying, perfected navigation and communication, the Global Positioning System, the B-1 and B-2 bombers, radar, composites, television, and weather prediction. And remember this was 1945!
Of more importance, von Karman also reminded us: "Only a constant inquisitive attitude toward science and a ceaseless and swift adaptation to new developments can maintain the security of this nation."
Back in 1944, in the shadow of World War II, it was perhaps easy to focus on the importance of staying on top of advanced weapons. Likewise in the Cold War years which followed, it was easy to focus on the missile race, the bomber race, the space race, and the nuclear standoff.
Today we face different problems: Globalization, international competition, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and doing more with less. We see more intersections between commercial and defense technology as we transfer defense research and development into commercial products, buy more equipment off-the-shelf, convert some defense facilities and technologies into commercial opportunities, and consider economic strength in "military" decisions.
One thing is certain: There has never been a period in the history of our country when a "swift adaptation to new developments" has been more important and in which the security of our nation depends on a "constant inquisitive attitude."
As a first step in renewing the enduring relationship between the Air Force and the scientific community, I have challenged the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to initiate a forecast using the theme of New World Vistas, envisioned as a truly independent, futuristic technological forecast of how the exponential rate of technological change will shape the 21st century Air Force.
Our goals are to identify fields of rapidly changing technology, predict the impact of these technological changes on the capabilities and affordability of Air Force weapons systems and operations, and predict science and technology areas where we can minimize Air Force investment and turn to the commercial world for technology development. New World Vistas is only the first step. We will continue to depend on the unique scientific and engineering talents of the nation's universities and industries as we extend our relationship with the scientific community for the next 50 years. It is important that we reach out to involve members of the scientific community that are not part of the formerly defense-dedicated sector.
I am pleased to say that the new members of the SAB reflect deep involvement and substantial accomplishments in the commercial world in computers and information, aircraft, civilian applications of GPS, materials, etc., even to the point of my having to spell "Air Force" in my initial conversations with them. Although our research budget has decreased in recent years, our commitment to research remains strong.
The Air Force has always been at the cutting edge of science and technology. What is new is that we are constrained now by a much-reduced defense budget. We can no longer design, develop, and buy weapon systems at cold war rates. The overall defense procurement budget is down in real terms by almost 50 percent from its peak in the mid-'80s.
These budgetary constraints are turning the Department of Defense into a customer instead of the technology driver it used to be. We are moving toward a single national technology and industrial base to serve military as well as commercial needs in a new partnership with industry for technology development. It will be good for us and good for America.
Air Force technology advances ensure the qualitative edge we need to deter wars when we can and to win wars when we have to fight. Precision and stealth are good examples. One F-117 stealth fighter with one pilot dropping one precision-guided bomb can reliably destroy a target that would have needed, during World War II, 108 B-17s, with 1080 aircrew members, and 648 bombs. Today the F-117 fighter can fly alone, expecting invulnerability. In World War II, our bombers required hundreds of escort fighters, and often took staggering losses.
Tomorrow our F-22 fighter will guarantee air superiority in future conflicts. The resulting freedom of maneuver has allowed our forces to win quickly and decisively. As we have learned, with air superiority everything is possible; without it, nothing is possible. The F-22 will dominate the skies of the future in the face of global proliferation of radar, missile, and aircraft technologies. When the F-22 enters the fleet in significant numbers, our current air superiority aircraft, the F-15, will be over 30 years old.
In the space arena, we are working on a cheaper, more reliable booster. This program could be the springboard to restore world market share in our commercial launch industry. With DOD's worldwide commitments, space forces provide the needed global situation awareness; they are an integral part of our defense policy.
This search for new air and space technologies is vital to the security of this nation and crucial to our economic strength. Our aerospace industrial base is a mainstay of the American economy. It not only contributes significantly to both the nation's gross domestic product and exports, it also represents the foundation upon which our future progress will be based, developing products and technologies for the nation as well as skills and expertise in the people they employ.
We are entering into a new era in defense. While we have always been high-tech, we will now see more of these advances coming directly from the commercial sector. This is to the benefit of this nation and its defense as these industries provide a solid technical and commercial base for a healthy economy, a capable military, and substantial exports. Fortunately for all of us, American science and technology continues to be a source of national strength and renewal.
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