Airman Magazine sat down with Gen. Tim Ray, the Air Force Global Strike Command commander, for an in-depth interview. The below excerpts highlight how the command continues to innovate and explore the art of possible. There are only historical traces of Strategic Air Command; these Airmen are now Strikers. Excellence and teamwork is in the job description; they’re attracting talent and working hard to keep it in-house, building the world’s premiere nuclear and conventional long-range strike team.
Airman Magazine: What does it mean to be a “Striker”?
Gen. Tim Ray: Strikers stand on the shoulders of giants like Schriever, Doolittle, Arnold and Eaker. That’s our heritage. We understand that air and space power is not about perfection; it’s about overcoming obstacles and challenges. Strikers are in a business that no one else can do. Strikers know the score; and the score is that there are no allied bombers out there. There are no allied Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. What we do every day as a Striker is the foundation of the security structure of the free world. This fact is viewed in the eyes of our adversaries and it’s viewed in the eyes of our allies. In a very important way, there’s a lot riding on our Airmen, and we have to get it right every day.
Airman Magazine: What are some of the challenges Global Strike is facing and some of the conversations and solutions your team is coming up with?
Gen. Tim Ray: For us it’s to think about the competitive space we’re in, when the Cold War ended; there really was only one team that stopped competing at this level, of great power competition—the United States. We enjoyed a world order that was to our benefit. Now we have players on the scene with regional reach and capacity, and also global capacity, and we’ve got regional players who want to make sure that they have more sway. So think North Korea, Iran, China and Russia. So how we compete with them is not something that you can take lightly. When you step back and think about it, in this long-term strategic competition, how do we compete?
One of the things I’m very proud of in the command is what we’ve done with our weapons generation facility. Here’s an example: the old requirements for how you would build that were very expensive and somewhat outdated. We brought in a cross-functional team from across the Air Force. We gave everybody a right and left limit and we made them really think about this thing. The outcome of that effort is an option to re-capitalize our facilities at a third of the cost. We’re saving hundreds of millions of dollars that’ll have better security and better capacity. I think that’s the kind of business game we need to continue to play; to go and provide great, relevant capabilities, much more affordable for who we are as an Air Force and who we are as a military. I think that’s how we continue to take this particular thing on, is thinking about the context, what do we have to do to find ways to solve those problems.
Airman Magazine: Can you talk about the atmosphere of how we handled things back during the Cold War and how, in today’s great power competition, things are different?
Gen. Tim Ray: With the Cold War, there was bipolarity and a set number of competitors. With the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union versus everybody else; we had the lead. Now we have multi-polarity with competitors like China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, violent extremist organization challenges; they are now part of the equation. So you have to think more broadly about this global situation.
Things are in this conversation now that weren’t back then, space, cyber, hypersonics, the information domain, the internet, what happens in social media, all those influencers. That’s a very different game when you start to understand what’s really going on out there.
Airman Magazine: How do you maintain a vector and vision for the command in an ever-changing competitive space?
Gen. Tim Ray: When you read the book Why Air Forces Fail, we see that there’s no loss based on a lack of tactics, techniques, or procedures. It’s always for a lack of ability to adapt to what’s going on. So when I think about that particular space, you have to realize this is really more of a chess game. So you can’t try to win every move. But you have to avoid being put on the chess board without options, and that’s how the enemy is playing the game. So you need to know how you get to checkmate on the enemy. And certainly when it comes time to maneuver on the board, you think more strategically. When you consider that dynamic, so how the Soviet Union dealt with us, they tried to win every day, and it didn’t work for them. So we step back and consider what’s going on, you have to set a pace to build margin and to compete that is sustainable.
Airman Magazine: What does the Global Strike Command of 2030 look like?
Gen. Tim Ray: The command in 2030 understands readiness and capacity as an ecosystem. How we tend to look at it these days is fairly numerical. And as you begin to modernize and change you have to think about it as an ecosystem. You have to think about the rate at which you can bring new technology on. You have to think about it in the rate at which you can keep it relevant for the conflict ahead of you, and put those capabilities in on time. You have to understand the training requirements, and the manpower.
So we’re standing up our innovative hub that’s connected to AFWERX—StrikeWerx. We’ve got great connections with academia here locally, and then building that more broadly. So that innovative space, that data, that ecosystem approach, means that I think we can be much more capable of keeping that margin in play, and doing it as affordably as we possibly can. So that piece, that’s an important part of just the organize, train, and equip.
We’re absolutely tying ourselves to space in a very formal way because that’s a big part of how we’re going to operate. Multi-domain command and control, multi-domain operations, means many sensors, many shooters. And to be able to connect them all together, I tell you, if you’re serious about long-range strike, you’re very serious about multi-domain operations, because that’s how we’re going to do this. And so it’s a big part of who we are.
Airman Magazine: How important is it to develop and adopt simulation training technologies that are compatible across the command and that are scalable to an Air Force level?
Gen. Tim Ray: Starting locally at each of the wings, we’re beginning our own efforts to use augmented and virtual reality. It’s already in play in a couple of our wings. Certainly I see the ability to bring artificial intelligence into that, to make sure that we’re doing really smart stuff. We can measure human performance now more accurately, and so you can compare that to a standard.
I’m a huge fan of simulation. There’s a lot of things you can do, but there’s also some real-world things that you’ve got to do. So you’ve got to keep those two things in balance. Not one before the other, but really it’s about putting them together correctly to give you the best trained Airmen, and that you’re relevant. I see us continuing to work down that line. I believe that all the new platforms that we’re bringing on with the new helicopter (MH-139 Grey Wolf), certainly the B-21, the new ICBM, and the new cruise missile, all those capabilities I think we have to bake in the virtual reality, augmented reality, dimensions to training, and the maintenance and the support and the operations. I think that’s got to be foundational, because it’s a much more affordable and more effective way to go.
Airman Magazine: General Goldfein said when it comes to the nuclear enterprise, that there might be a great cost to investing in it, but the cost of losing is going to be much higher. Can you expand on that statement?
Gen. Tim Ray: When you think of our nuclear triad, it must be looked at through the lens of the Chinese triad. Which is not big, but it’s a triad and modernized. The Russian triad which is large and modernized. Then, look at our triad through the minds of our allies and partners. That’s the context. And we don’t get to pick our own context. We don’t get to pick how we want to manage that. That’s the reality of how this operates.
Airman Magazine: How important is our commitment to our allies in this fight?
Gen. Tim Ray: What you’ll find is that, whatever happens in the nuclear realm, will need to play out in the capitals of all of our allies. What it is and what it isn’t, what it means and what it doesn’t mean. Because there are countries out there who are, on a routine basis, asking themselves whether they need to build a nuclear program. And because we’re doing what we do, the answer to that is no, they don’t have to. So there is a counter-proliferation dimension here. Back in the Cold War there was the United States, there was the UK, the French, and the Russians. Now there’s India, Pakistan, you’ve got North Korea, and China and so on. You’ve got a very different world. We don’t need more of those. It simply complicates it and makes it more difficult. So it has to play out in our minds, how we intend to stay the course in a way that works. That’s the difficult piece.
Airman Magazine: The Minuteman III was placed in the ground in 1973. As we look at updating those systems, moving toward more integrated, how do you look at the security aspect of that when it comes to the ICBM capability?
Gen. Tim Ray: Security on all dimensions for the nuclear portfolio is so critical. You have to have a very high degree of assurance there. What we’re doing is a priority
You now have a challenge with the old ICBM. When, not if, you need to make a modernization move for a new component, you have a phenomenal integration bill. Right now, we don’t own the technical baseline, which means we have to pay a very high price for that. It was not built to be modular, so now we have to have a lot more detailed engineering, and it’s going to take a lot longer to do that. And it’s less competitive, because there’s only handful of people, maybe one or two places which might even want to take that on.
For the new system, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, there’s a different value proposition there. One, it’s modular in design. It’s mature technology. It’s built to be in the ground for a long time. We’re talking about a two-third reduction in the number of convoys, which is a significantly safer world. It’s two thirds fewer openings of the site to do work on it, and to expose it to the outside. You’ll have a more modern communication capability, which means you can design in a much more cyber-resilient capability, and you can look at redundant paths. So I think at the end of the day, the value proposition of being able to make affordable modernization moves or changes to reduce the security challenge, and to bring in that modern technology that you can now work on in a competitive environment, that’s just a much smarter way of doing business.
Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Air Force just acquired a new helicopter which your command will be utilizing. Can you please talk about the acquisition of new technology for your command?
Gen. Tim Ray: There’s a formula for affordability. You need to have mature technology. You have to have stable requirements. You need to own the technical baseline so that you don’t have to pay the prime contractor extra money to go fix it. You need to be modular so that you can make very easy modern modifications without it having to be an entirely new engineering project. So you just have to reengineer that one piece to interface with it all. Then you’ve got to get it on the ramp on time, and then begin your modernization plan. That’s the formula. That’s exactly how the new helicopter played out in a competitive environment. It was the best option. I think we’re going to find it’s going to meet our needs quite well. That’s going to be a tremendous help, and I think it’s going to go faster than fielding a brand new system. So we’re modifying something that has the capacity to be modified. I think it’s a great, great success story.
Airman Magazine: The Air Force has the great responsibility of being entrusted with the most powerful weapons on the planet. What’s your view in being part of such a huge responsibility?
Gen. Timothy Ray: It is a tremendous responsibility to be in charge of two thirds … On a day to day basis, to be in charge of two thirds of the country’s nuclear arsenal, while there may be some instability, the world without these particular capabilities would be very different. I believe it’s important for us to look at it beyond simply day to day stewardship. If you really think about it, it’s not just the global strike portfolio, or the Air Force portfolio, or even the DoD, the Department of Defense, this is the nation’s arsenal. And the nation’s arsenal, and our leadership role in the world, and the role we play, there’s a tremendous application across the planet. So that just underscores how important it is on a day to day basis.