NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (AFNS) -- Blending resolute certainty with optimism and unsentimental assessments of the challenges ahead, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein outlined the Air Force of the future and the path for getting there Sept. 17 in a speech at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor.
Goldfein’s one hour and one-minute address was wide ranging and in many ways an update of remarks he delivered the previous year at the same conference. In those remarks, he unveiled the ambitious move toward “multi-domain operations” or MDO. Then as now, he described the need for the Air Force to reshape itself in response to a new “character” of warfare that is driven as much by “cognition” as platforms.
Much of the address focused on the progress that’s been realized since.
“Victory in future combat will depend less on individual capabilities and more on the integrated strengths of a connected network available for coalition leaders to employ,” Goldfein said in the 2019 version. “What I’m talking about is a fully networked force where each platform’s sensors and operators are connected.”
In presenting the case for an Air Force that seamlessly combines weapons, sensors, data and people from air, space, sea, cyber and information, Goldfein pointed to history. The Air Force he commands today as the senior military leader traces its roots to decisions made by his predecessor chiefs of staff.
“I am the 21st chief; my job is to make sure that chief 24 – who just made brigadier general – has what she or he needs to stand on this stage in 2030 and make the same statement without hesitation,” Goldfein said, referring to ensuring that the Air Force can confront and defeat any adversary.
The move is already underway as the Air Force shifts “our focus from platforms to networks."
"From devices to apps; from humans in the loop to humans on the loop,” he said to an audience of Airmen of every rank, industry officials, congressional staff and Air Force retirees.
While the concept appears straightforward, putting it into practice is not. The technical challenges require linking systems to collect vast amounts of data from an array of sensors from the various domains in a way the information can be assessed, understood and transmitted quickly to commanders and combatants to produce correct, coordinated, successful actions.
The goal, he said, is to combine to “produce multiple dilemmas for our adversaries in a way that will overwhelm them.” An even better outcome, he said, is to refine MDO to the point where it “produces so many dilemmas for our adversaries that they choose not to take us on in the first place.”
And while the transformation is complex, it is still in its early stages and is necessary. Goldfein was both emphatic and certain that the Air Force of today remains preeminent.
“I stand here today as the 21st chief and say, ‘This is one hell of an Air Force!’" Goldfein said. "And it’s why I can stand here with confidence and tell you, if we go to war, we’re going to win.”
Securing that status going forward, however, in a world of shifting threats and geopolitics and the reemergence of China and Russia, requires a shift to integrated, total force approach, he said.
“If we’ve done our jobs right as leaders organizing, training and equipping our service for multi-domain operations and selecting and developing the leaders needed for this future fight, our Airmen will excel at multi-domain operations because we will have built it into every exercise scenario and war game,” he said.
To better explain the concept, Goldfein used current-day weapons and choices to illustrate the point.
“So the question for us is not whether we are going to be old or new, manned or unmanned, penetrating or standoff, conventional or unconventional,” Goldfein said. “The answer to that question is yes; all of the above.”
“Standing here today, I don’t know what is going to go in the bay of an 80-year-old B-52 (Stratofortress) or a 10-year-old X-37 or a one-year-old F-35 (Lightning II) or the tube of a tactical submarine or a HIMARS artillery tube or a Marine special forces team,” Goldfein said. “I just know we need to connect them in ways they are not connected today.”
He then turned to an animated fictional simulation of a conflict that played on big screens behind him that featured a response – with Goldfein’s narration and commentary – by a highly coordinated, multi-domain response.
Goldfein also wove together disparate topics including revising the way the Air Force evaluates and selects – and promotes – officers and noncommissioned officers, establishing the Space Force as a new and separate branch of the military and the important role spouses play as critical to the Air Force’s excellence and development. He paid homage to Gold Star families, reminding the audience to never forget the names of the fallen and their sacrifice.
He saluted the 685,000 active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen.
“You are the greatest treasure in our nation’s arsenal, and I’m proud to serve you as your chief,” he said.
Goldfein also recognized the contributions of the Air Force’s civilian personnel.
He spoke about the necessity of updating and modernizing the aging nuclear arsenal and investing in “a penetrating force that can persist in enemy territory, protect itself and anyone else inside, proliferate with other capabilities that will blind and confuse the enemy.”
Goldfein said he is excited about the arrival of a Space Force. Regardless of its final organization and configuration, he said the Air Force will continue playing a prominent and essential role in space. While all domains are important, space plays an especially crucial role in the new approach the Air Force is adopting.