Air Force leadership highlights the need for digitally fluent personnel and digital manufacturing during the 2020 Air, Space, Cyber conference.
The Air Force wants to jettison its analog ways and go digital in everything from talent management to aircraft manufacturing and design.
Matthew Donovan, the Air Force's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said revamping talent management to focus on adapting to "digital native" airmen is the crux of the service's digital modernization plan.
The Air Force needs to "appeal to expectations" of the youngest airmen to establish military service as an equally viable career path as corporate America, Donovan said at the Air Force Association's virtual Air, Space, Cyber conference Sept. 14.
That means increasing "career flexibility" so personnel can rotate in and out of Air Force components and the private sector (and alternate between active and reserve duty), Donovan said. Making sabbaticals, which could be used for family or elder care, education and training, "the norm" so that service members can come back to active duty without penalty, should also be included.
Donovan said the priority is "lifting our current workforce to a higher level of digital awareness and taking advantage of hiring new people who are digitally savvy. But we can only realize this vision by establishing a culture that is digitally centric, data based and results driven."
That starts with a "robust IT infrastructure, a data management strategy, and the evolution of our workforce into a digitally savvy, data-centric culture," he said, adding that how the Air Force approached all domain command and control operations and the Advanced Battle Management System could be a model for the workforce.
That digital-first mindset also extends to manufacturing. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett announced a "new weapons system designator," the e-series, for aircraft, satellites, weapons and other platforms that are designed in a digital environment.
Those assets get a lowercase "e" prefix the first of which will be the Boeing Red Hawk eT-7A jet, which is set to come out in 2023, Barrett said during the conference.
The announcement follows the vision of Will Roper, the services' acquisition chief, who has adamantly pushed for the Air Force to seriously invest in digital engineering processes.
During last year's conference, Roper discussed a "holy trinity" needed for technology innovation -- agile software, open architecture and digital engineering -- which could mean quicker modernization, acquisition, and a broader industry base that includes smaller, non-traditional companies.
"We're down to two maybe three companies that can build a high-performance tactical aircraft," Roper said in 2019. "So if we don't change the dynamics of our programs, we're in danger of collapsing from two to one."