Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as part of its Smart Women, Smart Power series Jan. 14.
SWSP launched in December 2014 and convenes top-level women leaders to discuss critical and timely issues in their respective fields, reflect on their professional experiences, and share ideas and insights.
With the 25th anniversary of the start of Desert Storm on Jan. 16, James recalled lessons she learned from that particular operation.
“I remember being in awe of the first time the fantastic combination of stealth and precision weaponry (was used), all of which was enabled by space,” James said. “That was the first time that the investments that had been made, in some cases a decade or two decades, actually came together on the battlefield and for the first time the world saw what the United States military could do in this new era.”
Among many things, James was asked about setting up no-fly zones in Iraq and Syria as well as the limits of the air campaign in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“I would first tell you all, it’s very much a whole of government approach,” James said. “There are more than 60 countries involved with the coalition doing different aspects of the work and, of course, it’s a joint situation.
“But make no mistake; it has been very heavily the United States Air Force that has covered this air campaign,” she continued. “This is everything from striking the targets to the very important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the assets in space that enable everything that goes on. The strategy is we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”
With technology being key in maintaining air superiority, the Air Force is focused on the Defense Department’s third offset strategy which is finding the next key technology that will help ensure the U.S. maintains the advantage over adversaries.
“Think of super computers that can crunch data and make sense out of different databases, I think that will be part of it,” James said. “I think another piece is likely to be, I’ll call it, human machine collaborations. Human interfaces with technology in different, new and creative ways.”
When asked about China and Russia’s hand in space, James said the Air Force is shifting people and resources toward space.
“We are going to start treating space the way we treat everything else in the U.S. military,” James continued. “That is, we need to get our heads around the fact that one day there could be a conflict on Earth that, in some way, bleeds into space. We are going to start experimentations, the various types of practice things that we do in other domains in the military to make sure that we can defend appropriately our constellation in space.”
At the conclusion of the event, James answered questions from the audience that ranged from maternity and paternity leave, women in combat roles, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft.