Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein presented an optimistic and confident portrait of the service’s future July 1, telling an influential audience at the Brookings Institution the service is fulfilling all missions with excellence and ingenuity despite an array of challenges.
During the hour-long virtual appearance, the Air Force’s highest-ranking officer explained that the service has made progress toward high-priority goals that include all-domain, joint operations and adapting to meeting threats from near-peer powers.
He also discussed improvements in technological innovation and acknowledged the need to address new challenges. The opportunities included the continued development of the U.S. Space Force, improving the diversity of the Air Force, while also ensuring social and criminal justice across the service.
Goldfein explained that early in his tenure, he noticed four key areas “we have to invest in if we’re going to build the force we need to be able to compete, deter, and if deterrence fails, win,” he said.
The first key area was space. The Air Force had to make space superiority number one, he explained. “It was never a guarantee that if you moved first in space that you were going to win. But in every (war) game we played, if you were the second mover, you were guaranteed to lose,” he said.
“It became clear to me that the time to build a service was now… that a chief of a service focused on space is going to move faster than a chief of a service that’s focused on the entire multi-domain Air Force,” Goldfein said. “Once I became a believer, I got behind it full-force.”
The plan is to make the new service successful within the Department of the Air Force, which means growing it while keeping it connected, he said.
The second key area was Joint All-Domain Command and Control, an approach that aligns each branch of the U.S. military to maximize the projection of power across air, land, sea, space and cyber operations.
This concept, known in the shorthand JADC2, represents a fundamental shift in how the joint force and industry will do business, he said. The collection of networked systems and immediately-available information is critical to enabling joint service operations across all domains.
It is about connecting the force in ways never seen before, Goldfein said. He illustrated the concept by explaining that new aircraft must be able to “talk” to older aircraft. They also must be able to instantly and seamlessly communicate with an X-37 space plane in orbit, a Marine task force or an Army brigade combat team on the ground and to a Navy submarine below sea. Every system needs to be optimized to operate simultaneously in all-domain operations, in land, sea, undersea, space and cyberspace.
The third element of investment was a hybrid force – describing the desire for stand-off and stand-in systems. In order to win future battles, this means portions of the joint team should be able to “penetrate, persist, proliferate, protect and punish the adversary,” while other portions of the force may have to operate from outside the threat area.
The final area focused on the false assumption that future logistics are safe.
“Let’s be honest, I’ve been able to flow whatever forces I needed into theater in whatever time frame or mode I wanted, and I was never under attack,” Goldfein said. “That’s a false assumption for a future conflict.”
Each of these four areas contribute to building a force that could change the outcome of future fights.
“The only way to pay for that [force] is to get rid of those things that don’t play well or heavily in the 2030 fight. That’s the path the service has been on,” he said. “Trying to get us to think about digital engineering, architecture and common data as the currency of future warfare.”
Building this force means focusing on recruitment and development, Goldfein explained.
“We’re doing a lot of work toward becoming a more diverse force, but I think we have the opportunity in front of us right now to put our foot on the gas and really move forward,” he said. “We’re the big tent service because we have the most diverse mission set. We do leaflets to nukes. We ought to be the very best in the world at diversity. And we’re not. But we can be.”
The measures being put in place to get where the force needs to be are aggressive and long-term, he explained. They involve changing the demographic, building a culture of inclusiveness at the squadron level, and giving commanders the tools they need.
“History’s not on our side here,” he said, noting the human tendency toward distraction. “Shame on us, if we let that happen. I’ve talked to commanders across the Air Force, and asked them to commit right now to making history wrong on this one.”
The CSAF explained that he wants the Air Force to be the standard that other services strive to follow. He wants diversity of Airmen across the demographics, of ideas and innovation to think of things others haven’t thought of, and solve problems for questions not asked yet, in order to network every asset in the armed services and the fighting force he envisions for 2030.
Maturing this doctrine, and the technology surrounding it, is among Goldfein’s most significant accomplishments as his four-year term as chief of staff comes to an end next month. He said his job as the outgoing chief is to run a transition that’s the gold standard for continuity, stability and keeping the missions of the Air Force.
Finally, he praised the selection of Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. to be the 22nd Chief of Staff. Goldfein touted Brown’s command experience in Europe, Central Command, and now the Pacific.
“He knows every international air chief from Africa to Europe, with a personal relationship…every international air chief in the Middle East, and every international air chief in the Pacific and (U.S. Indo-Pacific Command),” he explained. “This is a guy whose resume is just spectacular.”
“An unbelievable officer…if you look at his background, you won’t find one (officer), quite frankly, that’s better,” Goldfein said. “The wonderful thing is he and Sharene are an incredible team. It’s going to be fun to hand the flag to a good friend and a great officer, who will take this Air Force to newer heights.”