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Air Force to Poll Researchers 'On the Cutting Edge of Science' in Review

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced a 12-month review that aims to prioritize how the service conducts research for the future.

"Today, I am announcing a 12-month effort to conduct a broad review and revision of our science and technology strategy," Wilson told audiences during a speech at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

"It will define our highest research priorities, to be sure, but it will also help us strengthen new relationships between our Air Force and the science community, our universities, and our industry partners," she said.

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Wilson didn't detail any specific programs or research areas. The Air Force Research Laboratory, for example, studies everything from lasers to stealth technology in hopes of developing potential future defense applications.

The secretary said her goal is to simultaneously strengthen partnerships between American universities and the service on basic and applied research, especially given the U.S. finds itself "at a time when federal research funding may be uncertain."

Making her AFA debut as service secretary -- the first military secretary to be confirmed in the Trump administration -- Wilson said the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, will lead the review alongside the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and the National Academies of Science and Engineering.

"We will listen broadly and engage those who are on the cutting edge of science so we can focus on research efforts on the pathways that are vital to our future as a service," she said.

It is time for the Air Force "to be the sponsor of choice for research scientists," Wilson said, referencing next-generation engineering as the Pentagon begins to look at next best platforms, aircraft and weapons systems for a potential high-end fight.

The push for more research development comes as the Air Force wants to boost funding for next-generation technologies, such as a potential sixth-generation fighter.

The service's fiscal 2018 budget request released in May included $25.4 billion for research, development, test and evaluation programs -- an increase of $5 billion, or 26 percent, from the current year, according to budget documents.

Innovation has always been rooted in the Air Force's vision, Wilson said.

She said she and an aide had made a relevant discovery this week, as she was moving items around in her office at the Pentagon.

Her military aide discovered in an old desk a memo written by Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, the first and only leader to hold the position General of the Air Force. The memo, dated Dec. 6, 1945, was addressed to Arnold's successor and first Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Carl A. Spaatz.

Wilson reminded the audience that Arnold was also an innovator.

"A large part of [his] memo had to do with research and science and innovation," she said.

Citing Arnold's stark reminder that the Air Force must get more out of science and research programs in order to stay ahead, Wilson said, "From time to time, it is important to refresh our science and technology strategy, to step back from the programs and problems of today, and project 10 or 20 years into the future."

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