AFA's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference: What to Expect

Airmen assigned to the 633rd Medical Group board a C-17 Globemaster in September 2014. "Airmen First" will be a major theme at this year's annual Air, Space & Cyber conference organized by the Air Force Association. (US Air Force/Kayla Newman)
Airmen assigned to the 633rd Medical Group board a C-17 Globemaster in September 2014. "Airmen First" will be a major theme at this year's annual Air, Space & Cyber conference organized by the Air Force Association. (US Air Force/Kayla Newman)

From revealing the name of the future bomber to new leaders outlining priorities, this year's annual Air, Space & Cyber conference organized by the Air Force Association is sure to make some news.

Leaders will discuss the many challenges facing the service, including modernization in a time of budget constraints, deploying or training more with the smallest force the service has ever seen, increased drone missions, the air war against the Islamic State, and a hostile Russia encroaching on European partners.

Here's a look at what's to come at the conference kicking off Monday and continuing through Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just south of Washington, D.C.

B-21 Name Reveal

Officials are expected to announce the name of the future B-21 stealth bomber, known as the Long-Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B.

Northrop Grumman Corp. in October beat out Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, and Lockheed Martin Corp., the world's largest defense contractor, for the $21.4 billion initial contract as part of the LRS-B program.

The Air Force plans to buy 100 of the new bombers from Northrop, the same company that manufactured the B-2 Spirit. Not many details have been shared about the B-21. And the Air Force's photos of the mock-up have critics grumbling that the future bomber closely resembles the B-2.

Air Force Global Strike Command in March launched a website asking airmen, their family members and retirees to suggest names for the next-generation aircraft.

The website, dubbed "Name the B-21," offered the winner or winners -- as chosen by Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein (or possibly his predecessor Gen. Mark Welsh) and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James -- the chance to attend the show.

Among the names submitted to Military.com: Super Spirit, Sky Dragon, Nighthawk II, Marauder II, Vengeance and Ghost Shadow. The wait is almost over to see whether any of the favorites is the winner.

Chief's Debut

Gen. David Goldfein will make his conference debut as Air Force chief of staff after becoming the service's top officer in July.

Goldfein, a seasoned command pilot who flew combat missions in the Persian Gulf War, the Kosovo Campaign and the war in Afghanistan, has already previewed some priorities he hopes to fulfill as chief of staff.

Last week, Goldfein told audience members at the National Guard Association of the United States that he plans to review and revitalize the makeup of "the fundamental unit" of squadrons. He also wants to improve how the Air Force uses joint leaders to better work with sister services, and enhance command and control systems to better network and make faster decisions in any environment, Defense News reported.

Those three goals aside, Goldfein and James are pushing hard to mitigate the fighter pilot shortage -- of as many as 700 pilots -- plaguing the force.

New Faces

Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe-U.S. Air Forces Africa, plans to discuss NATO and its role in airpower.

Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, chief of the Air Force Reserve, will discuss the reserve component and building the modern "citizen airman."

Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry Jr., commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, will participate in a panel discussing innovative technologies for the modern-day warfighter.

Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, director of the F-35 Integration Office at the Pentagon, will be a new addition to a panel discussing the F-35's initial operational capability. This will likely be complicated after the service on Friday said it ordered a temporary stand-down of 13 out of 104 F-35s in the fleet, "due to the discovery of peeling and crumbling insulation in avionics cooling lines inside the fuel tanks."

And the following generals in new positions will participate in a senior leader panel: Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff; Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of Pacific Air Forces; Lt. Gen. Marshall Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command; Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau; and Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, director of the Air National Guard.

New Assignments

Meanwhile, the following senior leaders attending the conference have been tapped by President Barack Obama to take over new assignments.

Lt. Gen. James Holmes, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements at the Pentagon, will be the next Air Combat Command commander.

Lt. Gen. John Raymond, deputy chief of staff for operations, will lead Air Force Space Command.

Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, has been tapped to take over U.S. Strategic Command.

Cyber Emphasis

Cyber warfare has been highlighted before, but not as robustly as this year, as the exposition's organizing committee chose to add cyber to the name of the conference itself: "Air, Space & Cyber Conference."

The conference comes as U.S. officials say Russian hackers are behind multiple high-profile attacks against entities ranging from the Democratic National Committee to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) athlete database.

Air Force leaders repeatedly have insisted that future scenarios, against adversarial aircraft or even against enemies who hide within intangible domains such as the internet, are what airmen need to prepare for.

"Our military's technological superiority is being challenged in ways that we've never experienced before, and we can't take these developments for granted,"James said at the AFCEA International's TechNet Air 2016 symposium in San Antonio.

"If we do, that could put American lives at risk in the not-too-distant future," she said in March, highlighting that a resurgent Russia and "worrisome activity" from the Chinese, among other nations, gets a little closer to home when addressed in the digital world.

'Airmen First'

The priority is "airmen first," James has said many times. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Cody and she have spoken to policymakers on the importance of enhancing the quality of life for airmen, in order to take the mission forward.

In the meantime, improvements are required within the fundamental structure -- the squadron, Goldfein says.

Reinvigorating that lifeline is what's needed to take on whatever's ahead, he said in a letter to service members.

"The squadron is the beating heart of the United States Air Force, our most essential team. We succeed or fail in our missions at the squadron level because that is where we develop, train, and build Airmen," Goldfein wrote in August.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana2014.

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