General Ellen M. Pawlikowski

A wide ranging May 15 Defense Writers Group conversation with Air Force General Ellen Pawlikowski, one of the highest ranking women in the military, produced reports on everything from the changing size and type of military satellites to the down-to-earth matter of cheaply replacing broken door handles on aging aircraft.

Pawlikowski, the four-star head of the Air Force Materiel Command said space is turning rapidly into a contested battleground, and that is prompting “fundamental change” in how systems are designed and developed. They are becoming smaller and more numerous.

“A satellite communications system can’t just provide great communications. It has to be able to withstand an attack”, she said. At the same time, the cost of launching satellites into orbit is falling. “Those two things are driving a change in the way we architect our space. The size of satellites will change. The mobility of satellites will change”.The current generation of military satellites are too big, and too tempting a target for potential adversaries, Pawlikowski said.

The general said the use of 3-D printing to produce part for a door handle that has been breaking on aircraft, recently helped keep the aging C-5 fleet aloft. Using a conventional approach to find a supplier who could make the part would have taken a year and run about $1,300 per handle. Instead, Pawlikowski said the Air Force came up with a way to print the handles for $700, and did it in a matter of weeks.

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