WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a combat veteran, questioned Dr. Heather A. Wilson, nominee to be Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, at her confirmation hearing today. During her questioning, Dr. Wilson committed to work with Senator Ernst to cut wasteful spending and to make it a priority.
Senator Ernst also discussed innovative solutions to rapidly introduce highly lethal, low-cost capabilities to the battlefield. Senator Ernst, who has oversight of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in her Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, cited SOCOM’s use of commercial off the shelf equipment to update old aircraft and effectively engage the enemy without burdening taxpayers.
Ernst stated, “…why do we spend our millions and millions, or even billions, of dollars on aircraft munitions to destroy a ten thousand dollar pick up in the middle of the desert… I think there are ways that we can refine what we do with innovation and make it very cost-effective as well for our armed services.”
Dr. Wilson said she was open to innovative experiments, while stating the importance of engaging the scientific and technical community to move our nation forward.
Click here or on the image below to watch the Senator’s questioning of Dr. Wilson.
Senator Ernst: “Thank you for your testimony today and for being willing to take on this great responsibility. Before I begin, I would like to ask you some simple yes or no questions. Do you commit to cutting wasteful spending and making it a priority?”
Dr. Wilson: “Yes.”
Senator Enrst: “Do you commit to working with me to combat and prevent military sexual assault and retaliation in the Air Force?”
Dr. Wilson: “Yes.”
Senator Enrst: “Will you provide me with advanced notice should changes to the gender integration policies be considered?”
Dr. Wilson: “Yes.”
Senator Enrst: “And finally, given your previous work with the defense contracting industry, do you commit to upholding an unbiased approach throughout the acquisition process?”
Dr. Wilson: “Yes.”
Senator Ernst: “Thank you for those answers.
“Dr. Wilson, when Secretary Mattis was Commander of CENTCOM, he initiated “Combat Dragon II,” an innovation experiment designed to rapidly introduce highly lethal, low-cost capabilities to the battlefield.
“As part of this experiment, SOCOM borrowed two mothballed Vietnam-era aircraft from NASA. They outfitted them with advanced commercial ISR systems and precision weapons, which cost less, and in many cases, provided more capabilities than traditional ISR and strike aircraft combined.
“During a 3-month deployment, this SOCOM unit achieved a 99 percent sortie completion rate, and was able to find, fix and finish highly-sensitive missions by employing 63 precision-guided rockets on 41 different targets.
“Can you speak to the benefits of a high-low mix of combat capabilities? Specifically, how can we leverage the lessons of Combat Dragon to rapidly provide new capabilities to the warfighter without over-burdening our American taxpayers?”
Dr. Wilson: “Thank you Senator, I think that is probably a good example, although I was aware of OE-10’s that were recently brought back to service. I don’t know if that was the Combat Dragon program, but I do think there are ways to innovate and have been involved in a few of them myself when I was on the National Security Council staff trying to get some very new capability to the warfighter. We always have to be sensitive to the fact that sometimes our great ideas in the world of science and engineering have to be operated by an eighteen year old with minimal training in a very highly stressed situation, so we always have to be sensitive to those things, and the total cost of maintaining and all of those things. But I think particularly the Air Force, has always been, we’ve supposed to be the innovators. We’re supposed to be the can-do, fix-it, get it there, duct tape and bailing wire service in a way, and I think I’m very open to those kinds of experiments.”
Senator Ernst: “Very good. Do you see other ways that you can use innovation in the Air Force to really protect the taxpayers or are there other programs you think should be looked at?”
Dr. Wilson: “There are a wide variety of innovation programs. I do think that thinking about how we engage the scientific and technical community, because we’re all short of scientists and engineers, so how do we better engage them to try to move us forward. And also to try to be aware of what our adversaries might be doing. Our entire intelligence system since pearl harbor has been set up for indications and warning to prevent surprise attack.
“While in the area of science and technology, preventing surprise attack is detecting what our adversaries might be doing with respect to scientific and technical advancement, and what implications that might have for us. So their development of stealth tech, the best examples are the developments of the jet engine in World War II or the V2 rocket, or Einstein’s letter to the president about the potential for a nuclear weapon. How are we systematically assessing scientific and technical development to prevent surprise at the scientific and technical level, and I think there may be some things that we can do today that were not even possible to do ten years ago because of the ability to link scientists and engineers who otherwise wouldn’t have known each other.”
Senator Ernst: “No and I appreciate that very much and we will continue to look for innovation. Something I heard not long ago which I think really plays into the Combat Dragon II is a comment that was made- why do we spend our millions and millions, or even billions, of dollars on aircraft munitions to destroy a ten thousand dollar pick up in the middle of the desert. So I think there are ways that we can refine what we do with innovation and make it very cost-effective as well for our armed services. I want to thank you again for being here today and taking on this challenge. Thank you, Dr. Wilson.”