In March, Secretary of the Air Force(SECAF) Frank Kendall outlined what he calls “seven operational imperatives” for the Air and Space Forces.


“My highest personal goal as Secretary has been to instill a sense of urgency about our efforts to modernize and to ensure that we improve our operational posture relative to our pacing challenge; China, China, China,” he said in his keynote address. “The most important thing we owe our Airmen and Guardians are the resources they need, and the systems and equipment they need, to perform their missions.


“To achieve this goal, I’ve commissioned work on seven operational imperatives. These imperatives are just that; if we don’t get them right, we will have unacceptable operational risk,” he added.


The operational imperatives are:


1. Defining Resilient and Effective Space Order of Battle and Architectures
2. Achieving Operationally Optimized Advanced Battle Management Systems (ABMS) / Air Force Joint All-Domain Command & Control (AF JADC2)
3. Defining the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD)System-of-Systems
4. Achieving Moving Target Engagement at Scale in a Challenging Operational Environment
5. Defining optimized resilient basing, sustainment, and communications in a contested environment
6. Defining the B-21 Long Range Strike Family-of-Systems
7. Readiness of the Department of the Air Force to transition to a wartime posture against a peer competitor


The SECAF's seven operational imperatives appear to be aimed at large prime contractors. And in many ways, it is. Language such as "order of battle and architecture," "systems-of-systems," and activities that are "all-domain" and "at scale" is not suggestive of typical start-up capabilities. But here are a few insights for smaller businesses that can assist in stepping up to the Secretary's challenge, even if he does not seem to have such businesses in mind:


1.     The triggering fact that creates such an imperative is the well-aged resources which must be replaced. Like wine and cheese, the costs of such resources increase with age. But unlike wine and cheese, the cost increase is not associated with an increase in quality. Rather, the opposite is true; it costs more to keep the quality up. What this means for the young and novel is that you are a necessary part of the solution.


2.     Again, based on the triggering fact of old resources, young companies can choose two paths for integrating their tech. The first path is maintaining the military effectiveness of the current fleet while the next generation of capabilities push through the minefield of political and bureaucratic obstacles. The reason these imperatives exist is asocial problem, not a tech problem. The barriers for a small business seeking to assist in preserving what we have are less than those that exist for the sort of tech that must prove to be a next-gen, all-domain system-of-systems for resilient air and space dominance.


3.     The other path, though, capitalizes on the fact that these are “imperatives.” They are necessary for national security. The service must act. The creativity, technologies, and insights that small businesses bring must be a part of this advancement. A major difference between this path and the previous is the audience. This option for most small businesses may require teaming with a larger company, which presents both opportunities and risks.


4.     While the character of war changes with society and technology, the nature of war is a constant. It is still about breaking other people’s stuff while protecting your own. It is still about deterring force by imposing a fear of greater force in response. And it is still about survival. Ideas such as resilience, dominance, control, and readiness are the contemporary jargon that describes these timeless verities. Don't be deterred by language. Focus on the underlying truths and adapt to those demands.


5.     It is still about people. It seems that the only imperative that directly involves people is the seventh: "readiness." But people must operate, inhabit, work through, or learn from the technologies these imperatives inspire. Elements of human integration and operation underlie each of these in differing ways. Technology does not fight. People fight through technology. Stay focused on the human element.


While the Secretary's imperatives may not seem, at first glance, oriented toward what the small business market supplies, small businesses can glean from them. We must sustain old systems while optimizing new ones to ensure the lethality and survivability of our people and our stuff. Also, don't be deterred by the seemingly over-broad character of these imperatives. Rather, focus on the reasons why they are imperatives and the enduring truths of war, and adapt your insights, audience, and language accordingly.


If you’re a startup and interested in government contracting opportunities, we’d love to start a conversation with you. Contact Gallium Solutions today to learn more about how we can help.