BALTIMORE — The Air Force's new top general wants to take a second look at the squadron, improve its development of joint leaders and enhance the way the service does command and control, he said in a Sunday speech outlining his top priorities.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein previewed his top three goals in a speech at the National Guard Association of the United States Conference. In a little more than a week at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Goldfein will introduce the three generals who will be leading each one of those efforts, he said.
He also plans issue three short papers on the priorities, which draw upon ideas from the service's strategic master plan and Air Superiority 2030 flight plan.
"My intent is to pull these forward, and to focus them on the next four years," he said.
Improving Command and Control
One of Goldfein's top focus areas is advancing command-and-control capabilities so that the service is more networked and can make decisions rapidly enough to hinder its enemies' reactions.
"How do we get to a point where we are lifting and shifting and operating at a speed of decision making and force movement that our enemies can't counter?" he asked. "That becomes our asymmetric advantage, and I think we as an air component can be the connective tissue for the joint team."
Although Goldfein did not discuss any specific acquisition priorities during his speech, he hinted that better command and control could be enabled by a more widespread use of open-architecture systems.
For example, the service's Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, is responsible for coordinating air campaigns. Teams working at computer stations help to plan and execute missions that include everything from space to personnel recovery, he said. But because those teams use different proprietary systems, it's impossible for teams to share data unless a gateway is built across the two programs — something that requires another contract with industry and more money spent.
"The future needs to start by talking about common mission system architecture," Goldfein said. "Think about that CAOC floor looking more like an iPad, with individual apps that are able to share data that's formatted the same, that's able to use autonomy, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine language."
Although Goldfein did not specify how the Air Force could develop such a system, his idea sounds similar to the "Data to Decision" experimentation effort outlined in the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan. In that campaign, which began this spring, the service will evaluate whether it can use existing technology to put data from various sensors into a cloud-like architecture.
During a recent interview with Defense News, Brig. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who led the Air Superiority 2030 enterprise capability collaboration team, characterized the desired output from the Data to Decision effort in language very close to that of Goldfein: an iPhone-like collection of applications that would offer users synthesized information and intelligence on a variety of topics.
The Air Force also will reevaluate the makeup of its fundamental unit, the squadron, paving the way for future changes, he said.
"This is not an attempt to throw money and manpower at the existing model. This is actually a step back to say: 'What does the new model need to look like in the 21st century, given the missions that we have'," Goldfein said. "I think it looks different. I think there’s probably an active duty, Guard, reserve mix, perhaps at the squadron level that we ought to look at. I think there’s a full-time/part-time mix that we ought to look at in the squadron level."
Civilians or contractors may also need to take on a different or larger role in the new squadron, he said.
Before taking on the role of chief, Goldfein asked his father — a former Air Force pilot and Vietnam War veteran — how long it took to plan, brief, execute and debrief a typical mission during the 1960s. The answer was about five hours. Today, the average F-16 block 50 mission will take thrice that long — about 15 hours — even though the makeup of the squadron is largely the same.
Much of that is due to the huge leaps of technology and increased mission demands, coupled with declining manpower in the Air Force overall, Goldfein said. Up until the era when the F-15 and F-16 were introduced, Air Force pilots experienced mission growth only when new hardware was introduced.
"We actually could keep up with that, because hardware didn’t come to the field too quickly," he said.
Once weapon systems and sensors could be upgraded via software, however, missions grew almost exponentially, he said. That also triggered a growth in security and classification, which restricted mission planning to a smaller number of high-ranking officials, further lengthening the process.
Developing Joint Leaders
Finally, the Air Force needs to improve both how it develops joint leaders and how it teams with other services, in part because any fight against one of the military’s top five threats — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremist groups — would likely contain an air element, Goldfein said.
"We’re going to have to make sure that we’re strengthening its development of joint leaders so that we can step in, and not only support, but lead any of those operations," he said.
Goldfein indicated that the service may consider whether to begin joint training of its officers earlier in their career. Currently, airmen spend about a decade in the tactical level, during which time they may not gain a lot of experience cooperating with the other services, he said.
"What is a developmental path that ensures that, early in our careers, we are exposed to and start thinking about the business of joint planning and campaign design?" he said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.