AFA’s Air Space & Cyber Conference 2023: Key Takeaways and Insights

The Top 3 Takeaways

By David Hutchins, Senior Industry Analyst at Government Business Council

The Air and Space Forces Association (AFA) held its annual Air, Space, and Cyber conference from September 11th to 13th. Among the many updates from this year’s conference, there were a few key talking points that surfaced again and again. First was a focus on China as the number one threat facing the United States. Second was the need for new, advanced capabilities in order to meet this threat. Third was the rapid pace of innovation being supplied by industry partners. 

China, China, China 

New Warfare Requires New Capabilities

The need for accelerated change, or more specifically, innovation, was a common theme throughout the conference. Secretary Kendall went as far as to say that the Department of the Air Force must be open to major changes and must be ready for a war we have no modern experience for. However, there was also a shared belief that new innovations in space, cyber, and electronic warfare will enable the joint force to better sense, and make sense of, the battlefield, ultimately providing a decisive advantage. 

Regarding cyber warfare, panelists drew attention to the importance of developing cyber capabilities to protect our critical infrastructure. There is also a need to view cyber operations as a team effort amongst the joint force where data sharing and data security go hand in hand to improve readiness and resilience. 

Given the number of Guardians in attendance, it’s no surprise that space also dominated a great deal of the discussions. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the U.S. monopoly in space is over. China is investing in satellites that monitor the Joint Forces and is looking to limit U.S. capabilities in space. The Defense Department will need to rely on industry to get to space faster and more often. There was broad agreement that a proliferated low earth orbit (LEO) mesh network of satellites is needed to create a redundancy where there are fewer “juicy” targets for enemies. In addition, there is a need to modify our perspective of space as critical infrastructure that must be safeguarded with the same urgency as other critical infrastructure sectors. 

Industry supplying innovation

Insights From the Floor

By Jon Hemler, Senior Analyst, Military and Defense Markets at Forecast International

The technology exhibition component of AFA’s 2023 Air, Space, & Cyber Conference boasted over 230 sponsored booths crammed into the expansive 100,000 square foot Gaylord convention hall at National Harbor, MD. In the background context of near-peer pacing challenges and observed lessons from the Russo-Ukrainian War, advanced technology initiatives appeared as a primary focal point. These initiatives pared down to mainly two overlapping areas, unmanned systems, and artificial and autonomous control.

While large prime contractors like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin retained foundational presentations of their primary manned aircraft platforms, there was an undeniable shift toward highlighting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). And newer, smaller, and fast-growing competitors are ready to play.

Software Startups Enter the Mix

Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) and Autonomous Systems

A Shifting Industry Landscape

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