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Air power, joint operations dominate Eaker Lecture discussion

Cadet 1st Class Catherine Manning moderates a discussionCadet 1st Class Catherine Manning moderates a discussion with Gen. James Hecker and retired Gen. Tod Wolters during the Eaker Lecture at the U.S. Air Force Academy, April 19, 2023. Retired Generals Philip Breedlove and Jeffrey Harrigian participated remotely. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)  

By Blaire Brush
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications 

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -  Present and former U.S. Air Forces Europe commanders shared insights into the year-old Russia-Ukraine war with cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy Wednesday during the Ira C. Eaker Distinguished Lecture. 

Current USAFE commander Gen. James Hecker, Academy class of 1989, and retired Generals Tod Wolters, class of 1982, Jeffrey Harrigian, class of 1985 and Philip Breedlove participated in the panel discussion moderated by Cadet 1st Class Catherine Manning.    

Lessons Learned

Air power was at the heart of the conversation. The generals said this conflict shows the importance of establishing and maintaining air power as key to opening access to other domains and to ultimately securing control. They say neither Russia nor Ukraine has been able to establish such dominance, in large part due to both sides’ effective missile defense systems.     

The panelists also addressed the importance of international partnerships and allies in context of the great power competition. They say improving joint operations and capabilities will be key to success in the future fight and the U.S. must lead those efforts from the front.    

Connecting to the future fight

Cadet 1st Class Alex Schwier, a foreign area studies and political science major, said the discussion about international partnerships and interoperability hit close to home for her because she’ll be going to Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJPPT) after completing an international relations-related master’s degree.   

“This lecture confirmed the value of partnerships and building relationships,” she said. “At ENJPPT I will be flying with German, Italian, and British airmen and having that ability to interact with those officers and instructor pilots and build those relationships early will be beneficial for any future conflict.” 

Political science professor Morgan Plummer said the lecture’s connection to the Academy’s focus on the joint fight in cadets’ training allows them to put those lessons into context and prepares them for their future.   

“Much of our time in the classroom, particularly in the social sciences, is focused on ensuring that cadets understand the academic theories that underpin most of our collective understanding for how the world works,” Plummer said. “These theories are absolutely necessary, but ultimately insufficient, in their development as future officers. Events like the Eaker Lecture allow our cadets to engage operationally relevant content and test, interrogate, and apply those theories with real-life situations. This is the most important part of developing the critical-thinking skills they’ll need in the future fight.” 

The annual Eaker Lecture commemorates the significant contributions to national defense policy and security made by air power pioneer Gen. Ira C. Eaker. Previous speakers include NATO Secretary General Joseph Luns, Vice President Dick Cheney, and entrepreneur Elon Musk.