JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Harsh weather didn’t deter about 30 North Carolina-based Air Force ROTC cadets from visiting Joint Base Andrews for a mission briefing, base and regional tour, and a one-hour question-and-answer session with the Air Force District of Washington commander March 21-24.
Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson spoke candidly to Detachments 585, 590, and 595, a cross-section of future leaders from Duke University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University about Air Force history, present-day trends and the service’s way ahead.
He encouraged the cadets, with a median age of about 20, to call out questions and topics, and they eagerly obliged, with queries running the gamut from cyber security, space and missile operations, continuity of government, and even the general’s personal journey from Air Force Academy cadet to AFDW commander.
Of interest to the cadets was the state of cyber security in the Air Force, and Jacobson informed them that the services, in conjunction with U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, are “all in” in terms of keeping at bay the United States’ major rivals or other potential threats.
“From a [Defense Department] standpoint, we’re wholly engaged in protecting our networks from [certain] countries and any other nefarious actors,” the general explained. “We are ‘24-7, 365’ about creating good cyber processes to protect, defend, and when directed, attack.”
The general assured the cadets that network security is a growing business for cyber officers, particularly in an era rife with social media, GPS, and personal digital assistants.
“We recognize the threat, and day in and day out, we are fully engaged in deflecting the threat and keeping it outside of our network,” he said. “That device you’ve grown to love is actually a vulnerability for you personally and it’s a vulnerability once you put on officer rank and start moving around your Air Force.”
Another cadet inquired about continuity of government, especially in light of AFDW’s lead role in high-visibility ceremonies, presidential inaugurations, and state funerals.
“There is a group of people who spend their waking moments trying to make sure -- no matter what happens in this great world -- that the U.S. government keeps moving,” Jacobson said.
And keeping the government running, he added, is more important than ever, given current events.
“Make no mistake, you’re going to enter an Air Force in a time and place that’s as chaotic as I’ve ever seen it,” the general asserted. “You will be gainfully employed defending America around the world until you hang up your Air Force spurs and go do something else.”
The general mentioned the National Defense Strategy executive summary, which he said declares the nation is in a great power competition for not only cyber, but in space operations and surveillance.
“We’re not the only person in space,” the general noted, adding that whether for missile launch, encrypted communication, or cable television, space operations and surveillance is also a growing business. “Our enemies know that we rely on those satellites as much for you to game and have fun as we do for us to wage war.”
And the landscape and method of war, the general contends, will soon change. Less frequently, he said, will humans pilot aircraft, as the Air Force and other major organizations turn to remotely-piloted and eventually interconnected, autonomous vehicles and aircraft.
Jacobson emphasized his opinion that computing powers are moving so rapidly that many of the changes he described could happen during the cadets’ careers.
Still, the general acknowledged that the evolution to autonomy could make leadership more complicated.
“You will actually have fewer Airmen to operate and to command because more of them will be electronic in nature,” Jacobson said. “They won’t all be R2-D2, but they’ll be something like that and you’ll need to figure out how to lead the Airmen you have and lead the machines that you have.”
Ultimately, the general expressed confidence that the Air Force will remain committed to winning the war of ideas against adversaries.
“While we’ve had our focus rightly so on this war of ideas, our adversaries have grown to be near-peer competitors, and have grown in capability and capacity that didn’t exist in the 1990-2010 timeframe,” Jacobson said. “So while we’ve been busy, they’ve been busy.”