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Happy Birthday, Air Force – Ready For The Next Seventy Years?

As the Air Force celebrates its 70th birthday this week, now is not only the time to commend this branch of our military for its dedication to defending America and safeguarding our freedoms. It is also an opportune time to evaluate the state of the Force and look ahead.

Doing just that at the Annual Air and Space Conference in Washington, DC, earlier this week, Air Force Secretary Heather A. Wilson outlined recent accomplishments, while “detailing changes designed to drive the Air Force forward and priorities that include restoring readiness and cost-effectively modernizing the force.” 

Stressing the importance of personnel and training, Wilson emphasized that cost-effectively modernizing to increase the “lethality of the force” was a key priority:

“The average age of our aircraft is 28 years old. We have to be able to evolve faster, to respond faster than our potential adversaries. We’ve got a bow wave of modernization coming across the board for the Air Force over the next 10 years — it’s bombers, it’s fighters, it’s tankers, it’s satellites, it’s helicopters and it’s our nuclear deterrent.”

She further added that to modernize, it was incumbent on the force to get “acquisition right – being a good buyer for what warfighters need,” and stressed the importance of research and development. 

Against the backdrop of growing external threats – Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are just the most recent examples of flash points – Wilson’s remarks tie into the overall context of increasing the U.S. military’s defensive readiness.  

However, as Dan McGroarty recently stressed in a commentary for Investor’s Business Daily, the issue runs deeper than making sound acquisition decisions or focusing on “scenarios in which ‘there is only one U.S. company that can repair’ certain equipment. – Our metals and minerals dependency on foreign sources of supply is great and growing.” 

A recent Presidential Executive Order requiring cabinet department heads to report to the President policy recommendations for strengthening the U.S. industrial base is a welcome development in this area, particularly as it acknowledges “all the interconnections between a strong manufacturing base, a strong industrial base, a strong workforce … that strengthen our tax base which … allows us to buy the material and weapons.”

As McGroarty points out, this is “[a] fine and expansive statement, to which we should make a one-word amendment: Instead of buying the strategic materials used in U.S. weapons platforms, whenever we can, we should be mining that material here at home. And that requires reversing the slide that has seen the U.S.’s share of global mining exploration investment in steady decline the past two decades, even as the length of the federal permitting process has doubled.”

Devising a comprehensive mineral resource strategy, components of which McGroarty outlines in his commentary, will be a critical step to increase not just the Air Force’s, but all other branches’ readiness to – in the words of Wilson“lead and support the Joint Force in defending our Homeland, owning the high ground and projecting power with our allies.”