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Directed Energy Summit

General Holmes: So I'm going to talk a little bit about, with the time that I have, about as a war fighter, how do we think about bringing these new technologies on? What are some of the pitfalls, and how can we work together by collaborating across the department and with industry and with the people that set policy to try to help us bring this future a little faster and to try to get after the things we need to do.

I'll see if I can figure this out with the slide here, so if you bear with me for a second...

Some of you may have heard me talk about this, but when you're developing something new— let's start with the car. So on the bottom left-hand corner of this curve, you know, the first cars. Some of them had three wheels, some had four wheels, some you drove with the steering wheel, some had a tiller, some had gas engines, some had steam engines. They're all different, but in a short number of years without a lot of investment, a car kind of solidified around a thing with four wheels.

You steered with the front ones, it had a steering wheel, and you drove it in the same way with the same controls. If you could drive one car, you could drive another. We put more money into it, and you could go faster, you could go around corners better, and then pretty soon you hit that knee in the curve where you can pour more money into the performance and you don't get much benefit out of it. You get performance you can't use on the road, or you run up against your ability to get more performance. And so we get our value added from adding avionics to a car.

But adding electronics in a car, you know, the GPS and entertainment systems and everything else. And we can continue to pour more money into cars and they'll still be cars, until Google or Uber or somebody turns it into the robot car that we don't need a car anymore and we just use our phone and it shows up and takes us where we want to go. In the meantime we will still have to buy cars, but we’re not going to change a car significantly.

If you look at the airplane, you know, the first airplane, some had the horizontal stabilizer in the front, some in the back, you steered them by warping the wings, you steered them with ailerons.

You used a wheel. You used a stick. You shifted your hips, you know with the belt that was tied to you. But by the end of World War I, all the airplanes started to look a whole lot the same. A propeller that pulled the airplane through space, one or two wings, same kind of control set and again if you could fly one, you could fly any of them.

By the time you get to World War II the fighter planes look so much alike that we had to paint invasion stripes on ours so you could tell them apart at 300 feet. You know, range, the gunnery range. And now if you look at a 5th-gen fighter like the F-22 in my picture, or like the Chinese or Russian variants that Undersecretary Miller talked about, they all look a lot the same. You know, they all have some kind of delta wing, they all have some kind of blended fuselage, they all have some of the outer mold line things that drive a lower cross-section, and they all have a horizontal stabilizer mounted way back so you get more leverage for high angle of attack performance. And we can continue to pour more money into that, but we’re not going to get a lot more out of it.

So, as an Airman, as we think about this future battlefield, what can we do to jump off of that curve which is breaking the bank, which makes me an Air Force that is bigger than I can afford to operate and make some acquisition programs cost more than I can afford to get to, to get back down onto a new curve down in the bottom left corner? And so we want to look at things like improving our multi-domain performance. How can we work together with air, space, and cyber to create advantages on each one? How can we work with our surface counterparts in the Army and in the Navy, to share the load and be able to work together to, as [General] Bill Hicks said, you know, put the enemy on the horns of multiple dilemmas so that if they mass to counter him, we pick them apart from the air. If they disperse to hide from the air, he picks them apart on the ground. What can we do to move to a new curve?

A story that I like to tell is the story of brining ICBM's on to the Air Force. So this is a great read, it's a great case study in employing a new technology and turning an idea into a weapon.  And it's Neil Sheehan's story of General Schriever and building the ICBM. So there's a couple stories here, the surface story is about Bernie Schriever and a group that were able to field a nuclear-armed, guided-missile capability and change the world. The back story behind it, though, is a little different one, and here's my take on it. We entered World War II with the group of colonels and generals in the Army Air Corps that rose up through the war to be the generals that led the Air Corps to do its share in the victory over Germany and Japan.

At the end of that war, they had a hard time envisioning a role for a future independent Air Force that would do anything other than do what they did to win the war against those two enemies. They might build bigger airplanes that flew faster and flew higher and carried bigger weapons and created bigger booms, but they were going to kind of do things the same way they had been.

And so that led us to trying to provide nuclear deterrence by flying risky, early nuclear weapons around on risky, long-range bombers in an airborne alert posture with all the risks that go with that. A group of younger officers that were lieutenants and captains when the war broke out. They fought the war. They were dedicated aviators. They were decorated for bravery in that campaign. They were colonels for the most part at the end of that war. The ones that stayed, went back to school and got degrees in new disciplines like systems engineering, and they were able to see a world where maybe you did something differently.

Maybe instead of trying to fly great big bombers with nuclear weapons on airborne alert maybe you could do it cheaper, better, faster by doing it from the ground and marrying that warhead in a silo where it would be safer but could provide an immediate response.

For my generation of Airman, next slide please, if we aren't careful the paradigm we’re stuck in, as General Hicks said, is Desert Storm. We'll take the Air Force that we built to fight a pure adversary. We will have plenty of time to get ready. We will deploy all our resources and our logistics. We will get close enough to where we can be very persistent with that airpower. We will use low-observable aircraft, the beginnings of it with precision weapons, and will be very successful with the integrated campaign approach. As General Hicks said, the battlefield is changing, the character of war is changing. And anytime you get a chance to hear Bill Hicks talk it's time well spent. I've served with Bill in Afghanistan, I've served with him in the Pentagon, and it was a very thoughtful discussion, I think, on where were going in the future of war and on the tasks that will be required of the services to work together to think about—not just how will we fight and that multi-domain battle—but how will we work the command-and-control. Will we all have to build our own multi-domain command-and-control, or will we find ways to share the tools and the resources that we need to do that?

I think we will, but we’ll have to work at. So, if you can take that slide down for me, please. Let me talk to you little bit then about the Air Force's directed energy programs and how they fit in.

I'm going to make a case for collaboration. I'm going to make a case for some of the policy help that we need to be able to turn these ideas into weapons. So, for the Air Force, we participated in a lot of the same research that Undersecretary Miller talked about. The Army and the Navy, you know, we expect to go forward and develop the systems on the ground that will help us secure our bases and their basis and be able to survive on the ground when we're not fighting in the air. To be able to get a base structure that lets us get close enough to the enemy to have persistent effects. We'll have to maneuver between bases and adaptive basing. We'll have to change our tactics as well to be able to survive. But we think a combination of kinetic and non-kinetic air defense weapons, as someone talked about, married with learning how to maneuver our airpower between bases will let us still be affected.

What I'd like to talk about is our focus on a demonstration project of using airborne lasers for self-defense. We call it the SHiELD program, and it's described in our directed energy weapon flight plan that we completed last year and will be our contribution into the work that Undersecretary Miller will do to build that Department of Defense plan on how we'll move forward in the future. So we call it SHiELD—Self-protect High-energy Laser Demonstrator— and building on the successes that she talked, about our laser weapon system program in partnership with Air Force research labs, will test the self-protect high energy laser demonstrator in two phases.

While size, weight and power considerations make testing a laser on a fighter platform especially challenging, we plan to acquire, track, aim, and fire a 50-kilowatt-class laser in the transonic and supersonic regions over the next four years. And I point out the transonic and supersonic regions because it adds another layer of complexity to the task that General Webb’s guys will face with an airborne laser on a C-130, [which] is that you've got to be able to predict and then guide that beam through transonic air flow and through the supersonic airflow and have it still arrive at the right place with enough concentrated power to do the job. This scenario is a necessary step toward demonstrating a low-power laser that could shoot down incoming missiles.

Once we’ve proven that concept we’ll move to phase 3, and we hope to test a 150-kilowatt-class laser between 2021 and 2025 to be able to defeat more challenging inbound missiles at greater ranges to give us that survivability in the A2AD [anti-access, area denial] environment and to move our survivability onto the lower-left end of one of those curves that I showed you, instead of way out there on the upper right. The same advantages that we talked about with magazine depth, with being able to fire quickly and to recharge, would give us some capability for our older airplanes to maneuver in places that they cannot now, by being able to defend themselves against integrated air defenses. And it would help the new airplanes we are looking at like the penetrating counter-air aircraft that one of our journalist brought up earlier, to help it operate in  that environment.

So, to do that we face both the technical problems that Undersecretary Miller talked about and also some policy issues. And what kind of things are we talking about there? Well, to start with, to publish our directed energy flight plan, the folks who put that together from across the Air Forces mission areas had to consult more than 50 different security classification guides to be able to put a document together that they could release. There's one for power management, there's one for batteries, there's one for beam sharpening, there's one for the laser, you go on and on and on, and we've got to be able to get past that and be able to put it together faster and come up with standard classifications that we can share among each other.

The next one is, it takes a really long time to work through the policy to be able to field the system. We talked about some of the microwave systems that are designed to make people want to leave the spot where they are in a big hurry. You’re all familiar with the difficulties in getting the authorities required to employ that in a real environment. We need help with the policy so that we can field faster. Right now it takes about a year to work through the paperwork to be able to get to a decision about whether you can field a weapon. And the Navy's work with the laws on [U.S.S.] Ponce is an example of that.

The next kind of thing is, we need a common language to be able to talk about it, and if you want to convince war fighters that they can rely on the system and use it, then you have to put it in terms of the JMEM that airmen are used to using, or the Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manual. If I'm going to employ a JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition], if I'm going to drop a kinetic weapon against a target, I have a reference that my crews can pull out when their weapon is entering the target that says, hey, for this kind of target, in this environment, to achieve a 0.9 probability of kill, you need to drop this many of this kind of weapon. And if you do that you should be successful, and you can count on it going away. We need to work together to where we understand these weapons enough so that an air crew has confidence that, if I get a missile launch warning and I have that system on my airplane, it'll be better for me to not maneuver so that that system can track that incoming missile and defeat it, than it will be to try to maneuver against it. And we’ll have to work through that policy and language together to be able to make that happen.

And then finally the rules of engagement. So, we are participating in counter unmanned aircraft systems work, like all the services are, and imagine yourself as a young defender on a flight line, whose job is to defend the resources on an Air Force Base against all threats. And imagine yourself with a future directed-energy system, maybe some kind of man-portable system that can defeat UASs [Unmanned Aerial Systems]. And so you're watching a quad copter, and maybe it's in a remote location in Southwest Asia, and if it's there and it's not yours, you have the authorities the ability to go take it out and take it down.

Now put yourself on the flight line at Langley where last night we watched six F-22's depart to go replace guys deployed in the Middle East and take their part of the mission. Imagine yourself defending $300 million worth of assets there, the fence line is a football field away, people are flying them out there and they're okay doing it. How far do you let them come across that 300 feet before you have the authority to shoot them down without putting your millions of dollars of resources at risk? And then, add to that, imagine being at Dulles or National [airports] where you came in and facing the same threat in a nonmilitary setting, and what rules of engagement or what authorities do we have to use these weapons?

So, to get that done, we have a flight plan for Air Combat Command. It's focused on that airborne use to be able to defeat threats to our aircraft. We will work through the test program of SHiELD. We need help with policy, and we need help in collaboration both with our service partners. Our labs actually partner really well together and share information and resources well. We need to work at the staff level to be able to think about how we will use these systems on new battlefields and new paradigms. And we need help with industry to be able to move forward and take the ideas that make all these things possible and find ways to do them faster and sooner.

The survival of our war fighters tomorrow depends on the work that we do today as a team. We look forward to working with this team as we go forward in the future, and I'm happy to answer your questions. Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Q: James Drew from Aviation Week. How does the Air Force plan to balance the investment in the C-130 based airborne laser for AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] while also supporting something for Air Combat Command like the SHiELD project? Which one gets the priority, which one gets the funding, or are they both supported in your mind?

A: So, I think the basic research and the basic tools support both. The work that we've done in the past leads into opportunities to do both. There are different problems, as General Webb said. A C-130, you've got more room, you don't have the transonic problem, we may actually be able to do that faster, I think.

But in an Air Force that strives to fund R&D [research and development] at about 2 percent of our budget—so 122 million or so of blue TOA—2 percent of that, a little over 2 billion a year goes into R&D. I think the money is there in our labs to work forward with both of those demonstrations within this portfolio. And we'll meet this summer out at Kirtland [Air Force Base] to try to talk about exactly that and how we can work to make sure that we bring the effort together to support both of those.

Q: General Bill Sweetman with Northrop Grumman. Given that the decision to integrate a directed-energy weapon on something like PCA would have a very momentous impact on the whole requirement set for that aircraft, when do you think you'd be in a position to make that kind of call, or would you be interested in looking at a more diverse fleet of aircraft in the future than the ones we've had in the past?

A: So, for the whole audience, the PCA is what we call the penetrating counter-air aircraft, and we spent about a year and a half working through a study we call Air Superiority 2030 before we jumped into an analysis of alternatives on the F-X, or what we had called the F-X, which is a follow-on air-to-air fighter to come behind the F-22.

Before we went forward we wanted to make sure that we had looked at the multi-domain options that we considered. Are there ways that cyber capabilities, or space capabilities, that new weapons can play into being able to take care of that counter-air role?

At the end of that study, we decided that for the foreseeable future, for our lifetimes, we’re still going to have to have an ability to penetrate very well-defended airspace, if for no other reason than we have to get sensors in there to be able to find agile intelligent targets so that we can target them either with standoff weapons or with weapons from penetrating platforms. Once we made that decision, then we looked at what characteristics we needed to be able to field in that penetrating counter-air aircraft. We’re calling it the PCA on purpose instead F-X because it may not be what you'd expect to see in the sixth-generation fighter.

You know, in this changing battlefield we’re living in, will it be a more like a fighter, or will it operate more like you know say an attack submarine does, of being really hard to see, really lethal, when it's in there and operating in smaller numbers to get you know, a smaller job done?

We're working through those, we are now entering the analysis of alternative phase for what that PCA might look like. We're considering, you know, do we wait for the next generation of engines, that will give it the range that we would like to have by bringing in a third airstream and making a fighter engine more efficient? What kind of sensors will we wait for? And one of the things we’ll consider is whether we should go ahead and try to go straight to a version with airborne laser on it, or whether we'll go with a version prior to that.

So, as we look at the capabilities of that airplane, we also strongly believe that we have to procure it in a different way. In the Cold War era, we had the option as an American force that we could set a line in the future for capability about as far out there as we wanted, and we could take about as long as we wanted to get to it because we weren't operating against a peer adversary that was in competition with us technologically. As Secretary Miller laid out really well, that's not the world we live in now. People are fielding systems that are comparable to ours if not superior in some cases, and so we're going to have to return to the world where we did things like a Century series set of fighters—where we fielded new systems faster, and we didn't worry about getting everything on them that we wanted. We took what we could get.

So, with that penetrating counter-air aircraft, we’ll make an evaluation on what we think is at a high maturity level, both manufacturing and technology. What can we integrate in the field, we’ll compare that to what we have. If it's better, then we are going to go ahead and start acquiring them. After we've acquired some number of them, we’re going to go back and look again and say, can we add that next layer, is it ready? If it's not, maybe we keep going with what we had. If it is, then we move to the next piece. So, Mr. Sweetman, we will make those decisions as we go forward, and we want to pursue this in a different way. Or instead of trying to build in the next F-35, 30 years from now, we build something sooner that's better than what we have, is competitive with our adversaries, and then leapfrog through that.

The advantage of coming at the end of the day: the hard questions have been answered. Thank you.