WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s top general wants to network all of its assets together in a massive battlefield picture that will allow operators to make informed decisions as quickly as possible. But to get there, he is going to need different ways of contracting with industry, he said Wednesday.

“We must continue to transition quickly from an industrial age model of acquisition to an information age model,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein during an Air Force Association breakfast. “We need to focus not on the truck but on the highway they ride on. Our first question in any acquisition program of the future is not going to be: What can it do? Our first question will be: How does it connect?”

The service is entrenched in a yearlong study on “multi-domain command and control,” one of Goldfein’s top priorities since he took over as the U.S. Air Force chief last year. While the service is still months away from being able to release its findings, Goldfein said his latest briefing on the effort has made clear that “it really is about the data” — especially the need for industry to be able to bring data together across multiple platforms built by multiple prime contractors.

“How do we build a contractual vehicle that makes information sharing profitable for industry?” Goldfein asked, noting that in past command-and-control programs, defense contractors have put forth low-cost hardware linked to stovepiped, proprietary software that cannot share information with other systems.

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At the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar — which Goldfein formerly commanded as head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command — the space cell and personnel recovery cells were located so close that employees could literally reach out and give each other a high-five. However, for their different systems to share information, that data would have be piped to a lower floor, where it would be “translated” and sent back upstairs.

“That model is actually going to slow us down in the future,” Goldfein said. “So how do we work with industry to find a contractual vehicle that allows us to actually do open architecture-sharing of information and formatting data against common standards that allows us to be able to share at the speed of light?”

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Although Goldfein has repeatedly stated that the service needs to change its thinking about weapons procurement, Wednesday’s speech was the first time he suggested that new contractual vehicles could be necessary.

The U.S. Air Force is engaging in other initiatives that could feed into future proposed changes to the service’s command-and-control enterprise. For example, it has started pathfinder initiatives “to think through a faster and more agile acquisition process,” Goldfein said.

It has also begun a “Data to Decision” experimentation campaign that seeks to consolidate disparate streams of data into a streamlined picture. In January, service officials told Defense News’ sister publication C4ISRNET that it had shown it could use cloud-based technologies to fuse information and deliver it to air- and ground-based operators.

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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.

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