The Imperatives of Airpower: Challenges for the Next Fight

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KATHLEEN H. HICKS: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to CSIS. I’m Kathleen Hicks. I direct the International Security Program here, and welcome to our Military Strategy Forum. And today, we are featuring the Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David Goldfein. General Goldfein has had, I think people know, over 4,000 hours as a pilot. He has served as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, of course, before. He’s been in, thus, operations overseas as well as in the Pentagon, if you will, which is, perhaps, the toughest operational environment one can face.

And what we’d like to do this morning is have a little discussion starting with some comments from General Goldfein, and then we’ll open it up, eventually, to questions from the audience.

Before we begin, just as a reminder, should there be a fire alarm or anything of that sort, there are doors behind everyone here. The stairs lead out to the front of the building. We, obviously, have exits behind me, too, and I’ll just direct you which way to go should that happen.

So, without further ado, General Goldfein, thank you for joining us this morning.


MS. HICKS: And why don’t you start us off with just your impressions of how things are going from your perspective in the Air Force today.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: I appreciate it, and especially thanks to you and Dr. Hamre for holding these sessions. I mean, it’s really important for us, I think, to step back, away from the tactical fires that are often burning our ankles in the Pentagon, as you remember –


GEN. GOLDFEIN: – and talk a little bit about the more strategic issues. It’s especially helpful for us because we’re celebrating our 70 th year as an Air Force, and you know, as an Air Force we’re proud of the fact that we’ve been breaking barriers now for 70 years. And whether you want to talk about breaking the sound barrier or the outreaches of space or race or gender, we’re an Air Force that’s on the move.

I’ve found that as I’ve – as I get out and talk about our Air Force there’s a couple things interesting that I found. One, there’s not a great understanding of what the Air Force and the air component does, and so I want to just sort of lay out for you the way I describe an Air Force and what the Air Force does for the nation – in very few minutes because I know you want to get into a good discussion. And the other thing I found is that so much of what we do as an Air Force is below the radar and has become somewhat assumed capability, and so, I’d like to talk about that or a minute, and then a little bit of the opportunities I see for us as an Air Force.

So, to understand what an Air Force does for the nation, I think you’ve got to look through two lenses. You’ve got to look through a lens first which is that what which we do to defend the homeland from the homeland and contribute to the challenges that we face in terms of applying the military instrument of power. And then you’ve got to pick up a second lens, which is what do deployed and based forward, because our missions that we do every day, 24/7, 365 occur in both of those categories.

It starts with the nuclear enterprise. And along with the United States Navy, we’re responsible for two-thirds of the nuclear enterprise, the bomber leg of the triad and the missile leg of the triad, and we’re responsible for approximately 75 percent of the national – the nuclear command and control. And so, on our worst day as a nation, our job at the beginning of the day is to ensure that the Commander in Chief gets to where he needs to be and stays connected to his nuclear enterprise. That leads into what we do in space because it’s your Air Force that’s responsible for 12 constellations in space; everything from precision navigation and timing to protecting communications to sensing the globe. We’ve got airmen that are flying 12 constellations that sense the globe every day. And then, someone’s got to take all the data that we collect and turn it into decision-quality information – from data to decision – and that’s – a large part of that responsibility falls on the Air Force with literally thousands of airmen who are taking the information that we’re sensing, both from space or from intelligence surveillance reconnaissance assets, and turning that data into common operating pictures for commanders and leaders to make a decision.

We are part of the buildup of the cyber mission force and the cyber mission teams that are not only defending the nation in cyber, but also bringing capabilities to bear in the cyber domain. And periodically here in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere around the globe, around – in the continental United States, you’ll hear a craft scrambling and taking off to protect the homeland because that’s the mission of the United States Air Force, is to ensure that we keep the nation protected here, in terms of the air defense of the nation.

So, what I just described for you is the missions we’re doing here in the homeland and defend the homeland. And then, when you look forward and what we do forward and what we do based forward, it starts with air superiority, which is the freedom from attack and freedom to attack or freedom to maneuver, and that’s not an American birthright, that’s actually something we’ve got to continue to fight for. And once we actually achieve air superiority, we do global reach for the nation through a series of bases that are across the globe, and every two and a half to three minutes an aircraft has taken off for landing somewhere on the planet delivering supplies or personnel where they’re needed. And I would offer that we’re a global military, for a large extent, because of our global reach capabilities. And we just saw that a couple weeks ago when 18 separate tankers were required to take two B2s from Whiteman Air Force Base, fly them out to a target, 34 hours later they returned, and that’s just one example of how your Air Force keeps targets at risk on the globe for the nation.

And then, finally, I’ll just say, in the fight against ISIS we’re flying about 90 percent of the ISR or Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance and Command and Control Missions and about 65 percent of the sorties. We actually have about as many aircraft personnel deployed forward now in the fight against ISIS and the continuing operations in Afghanistan as we did during the surge.

So, everything I just described for you – that which we do here and that which we do based forward to assure allies and partners and deter adversaries, every one of those missions is a growth area, and the challenge we face as an Air Force is that while these missions have been growing, our Air Force has been getting smaller. And so, if I had been the chief in 1991 and talking to my Air Force when we went into Desert Storm, I would have been talking to an Air Force of just shy of a million Active Duty Guard and Reserve Civilian Airmen. Today, I’m talking to a force of about 660,000 – about a 38 percent reduction, while these missions have been growing. If I had been talking to an Air Force in 1991, I would have been looking at, as an example, 134 fighter squadrons, from which we deployed 34 – and many in the front row deployed. Today, I have a grand total, across the entire Active Guard and Reserve, of 55 total squadrons.

So, the challenge we face is that against those growth areas and against those growth missions, we’re actually the smallest Air Force we’ve ever been, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s great opportunities ahead, which I’m looking forward to talking to – about here, in terms of the kinds of things that we’re doing in space; the plans we have for the nuclear enterprise; the growth that we’re asking for, in terms of getting the Air Force sized right for the missions that we require; the act – the work that we’re doing on joint leader development to ensure we are postured right; and then, also look forward to talking to you about where we’re going as a business of Command and Control, which is so central to what an Air Force does for the nation.

So, with that, let me stop there, and I look forward to getting your questions.

MS. HICKS: That’s a very rich menu.

Let’s start on space. You were talking a little bit in the Green Room there – I think in the last few years, in particular, it’s been an incredible recognition in the outside, in the open sphere, of the challenges to the United States in space and the growth of those challenges, which aren’t from a single actor – they’re from a variety of actors. The Air Force has a unique role on space. How do you think about that role, and how do you think about tackling the challenges of an issue set that’s, frankly, hard to explain publicly and openly what is needed?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: First, the way I look at it. In my experience as an Air Component Commander Forward in Central Command and each – and as you know, each of the services has a component there. So, we’ve got a Marine Forces Component Commander, a Land Component Commander, a Maritime and then an Air Component Commander. As the Air Component Commander, one of my roles was being the space coordinating authority, and the way I approached that role was my job was to be the connective tissue between requirements and capabilities. And so, my fellow component commanders and the missions that they required and the combatant commander, my job was to ensure that I understood all the space capabilities that were available and what their requirements were to ensure that when we had to go in and do their missions or my mission those capabilities were ready.

I’m just looking through the same lens now as the Joint Chief that’s responsible for the preponderance of the space force. Because as a service chief, my job is to organize, train and equip and present ready forces to combatant commanders so they can fight the fight. And whether that’s General John Hyten at STRATCOM or whether that’s General Joe Votel at CENTCOM, I’m looking at this through the lens of an obligation that we have had as a service since 1954.

So, it’s important, I think, to start off to finding the problem statement in terms of what are we looking at in terms of the future of space, and I would define that as, you know, if we’re going to maintain space superiority, which we enjoy today, in an increasingly contested and congested environment – and I would define space superiority as freedom from attack and freedom to maneuver – in a warfighting domain that is a joint warfighting domain that needs to be normalized along the lines of how we fight in all the other domains, then we have to strengthen within the department leadership, organization, governance, acquisition, requirements. And so, we have a rather robust dialogue going on not only within the department, but in broader Washington, D.C. with a lot of stakeholders that, of course, are not only depending –

MS. HICKS: Because the intelligence community, obviously –

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Absolutely.

MS. HICKS: – is intricately involved in this space.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: They’re completely involved in this.

MS. HICKS: Yeah. Yeah.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: The intelligence community, allies, and partners that are there – you know, defense commercial industry that continues to grow, everyone now has got – they’ve got equities in space, and so we’re having this dialogue.

We have built a framework for the dialogue, which, I expect, will be rather robust for the remainder of this year, and it’s a bit of a hierarchy that says, hey, there’s four lines of effort, in military terms, that we ought to be thinking about as we resolve the overall governance and organization of space and how we operate in space as a warfighting domain. And it starts with how do we set the strategy and good policy at the very national level on space, and from that policy, then how do we as a department write Concept of Operations or CONOPS, Joint Warfighting CONOPS, just like we do for all other domains, and from those CONOPS develop sound requirements. And with sound requirements, how do we then have an acquisition strategy that acquires in the timeframe we need to stay ahead of our adversaries, and finally, how do we organize, train and equip and present a ready force to the combatant commanders.

So, we’ve defined a problem statement. We’ve defined the key lines of effort to frame the dialogue, and I think it’s going to be really helpful going forward.

MS. HICKS: Cyber has a similar, you know – it’s a domain but it’s in around – it’s a domain in which we are engaged every day in every way and certainly in combat, and like space, you have a particular capability to grow personnel and the skillsets and bring special expertise to bear.

How are you thinking about the cyber workforce and cyber organization, requirements, et cetera, just as you are about space?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Actually, in pretty similar ways because, again, back to a service chief – and I will tell you as a – the way I approach this job is I think I have three hats: organize, train and equip in the institutional Air Force for the business of what an air component brings to the Joint Force. My second hat is a member of the Joint Chiefs, where I’ve got to help General Dunford and my fellow chiefs, General Selva, with the overall campaign design – transregional campaigns. And then, third, I wear a hat as a global air chief with a responsibility to my fellow air chiefs. And so, through those three hats, I look at both space and cyber.

And in the first hat, my job, again, is to organize, train and equip and present ready cyber forces to the CYBERCOM and the Strategic Command Commander so that they can actually employ them in the fight, and so, we stood up a numbered Air Force to do that, the 24th Air Force. We’re about 65 percent now, I think, complete; maybe upwards of 70 percent complete right now for the building of our portion, meaning the Air Force’s portion of the cyber mission teams that work directly for Admiral Rogers, and we’re on track to complete that on our timeline by – complete by FY ’18. And so, again, I think we’re on glide path right now for what we set out.

The challenge that I think every one of the service chiefs face is to square their responsibility between that which I provide to the combatant commander, that he then uses or she then uses to fight against their operational plans, and that which I have to retain to ensure that I can do cyber defense of the networks I rely on to be able to do the business of airpower. And as we find more and more vulnerabilities in the cyber domain, it requires a more robust force because, I mean, really, if you think about it, you’ve got to bake it into acquisition strategy, right?

MS. HICKS: Right.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Because every node in a weapons system that has an aperture is a cyber vulnerability, and so you’ve got to bake that in. And so, getting the balance right between that which I have to retain to defend cyber for the business of providing airpower and that which I need to give to the CYBERCOM commander to fight, that’s the natural tendency, I think – tension, I think, each service chief has.

MS. HICKS: Right. That makes me think of a readiness line of questioning that I’m going to hold on just for the moment because I do want to talk about nuclear modernization, which, obviously, is an issue overall for the nation, for the department, but the Air Force has two of those legs, as you pointed out, of the triad. There is an executive order that’s already tasked – required a nuclear posture review and a ballistic missile defense review. How do you – what are the types of questions you think are most important, really, to be answered, in those reviews or just in general, as we look at modernizing the force going forward?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, I’d say there’s, you know, two questions that come to mind, up front, which is, first of all, do we want to walk away the attributes that were built into the triad? And the second question is, how does nuclear deterrence fit, actually, into a broader discussion about deterrence in the 21st century?

So, in the first part of that – the first question, you know, we didn’t build the nuclear triad all at once, it was built over time. Remember, we came – you know, we came out of World War II, we had a bomber and a bomb, and then some years later we built a missile, and then, some years later we built submarine. And we built that force to give us three key attributes. We built the missile force to ensure that we had the most responsive leg of the triad. That’s the one that the Commander in Chief can call on the quickest and respond the quickest. It’s also the one that has a huge cost-imposing strategy on a potential adversary with 450 sites that he would have to target to take out our capability of using that most responsive leg. The bomber leg is the most flexible; it’s the one that you can actually call back. It’s the one you can deploy forward. You can change yields. You’ve got flexibility in the airborne leg. And the submarine force is the most survivable. So, on our worst day as a nation we will always have access to one of those three legs. We’ve got to make sure that if we’re talking about walking away from those, that we’re actually walking away from those attributes. And so, that’s one of the first discussions we need to have – is do those three attributes still make sense? And if so, then modernization of all three legs is still required.

And then, the second question, I think, is, when you start looking at our capabilities in space and cyber that we just talked about, what does 21 st century deterrence look like? And the one thing I don’t think has changed is the math equation. It’s still capability times will. And the times is important because either one of those – if either one of those is zero, it equals zero. So, if it’s capability times will equals deterrence, what does the capability equation look like when you actually add in a nuclear capability, capabilities in space, capabilities in cyber, capabilities in the other global commons kinds of domains, I think that’s going to be a useful discussion for us to have.

MS. HICKS: When you talk to your workforce, who are – who are working in the nuclear side of the Air Force, what are they most looking to hear, do you think, from their feedback to you? Because there really has been, I think, a sense that they’ve been neglected over time; this has been a focus area for the Department of the Air Force. What’s the health at this point, and what are they telling you they most need to hear?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: I think they want to make sure there’s no say-do gap between what the Chief and Secretaries say and what the Chief and Secretary actually do relative to this part of our mission set. It’s why I described it – when I described what an Air Force does, that’s why I start with that mission set, because it’s the first thing I think about driving to work and the last thing I think about going home – is to make sure that we get that right. The force wants to see us act according to that statement and to ensure that when we – you know, that we don’t talk about, you know, nuclear business as a bright and shiny object and then move onto something, right, and not come back to it. It’s something we’re talking about and thinking about every single day.

I think the other thing that the force is looking for is there was a period of time where we had gotten to a point within the nuclear enterprise where it was very prescriptive, checklist oriented, which in that mission set, one would argue, makes a lot of sense. But we had taken decision authority away from – I mean, you think about – you know, right now, as we speak, there’s lieutenants and captains who are sitting in a missile silo in the Northern Tier and they’re responsible for the most destructive weaponry on the planet and we trust them with that. And there was a period of time where we didn’t trust them with a lot of other decision making, and having ownership of that part of our business – and I think by pushing decision authority down, by making them part of the solution, we’ve come a long way.

So, to your question, which is how are we – you know, what am I hearing from them right now? Overwhelmingly, I’m hearing that we’re on the right track. I don’t think we’re anywhere near ready to plant the flag and declare victory.

MS. HICKS: So, let’s come back to that overall readiness issue. This all ties in. You’ve laid out, I think, a very realistic portrayal of the vast responsibilities, frankly, of the Air Force in terms of what it’s providing to the warfighter today and what it needs to do in the future. In Washington right now there’s a lot of concern over resources, and the indicators we have over the concern for resources are both this ability to invest in, if you will, the third offset – I want to come back to that – but also, the nearer term readiness challenges.

So, how – what is your sense of the state of readiness of the Air Force today, and what can be done to improve it?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: You know, part of the challenge, as I mentioned in my opening comments, is how so much of what an Air Force does is assumed capability, and the way I describe it is it’s like a light switch. You know, I’m philosophy major from the Air Force Academy, who took six years to get through it, right? So, I actually don’t know how lights work. (Laughter.) I’m pretty sure there’s a bulb involved and some wiring and there’s, you know, power that comes from somewhere.

But, here’s what I know. I know that when I walk into this room, I flip that switch and those lights come on. So, in my entire adult life I’ve associated light with switches, and they always work. Every time I flip the switch, the light comes on. So much of what we do as an Air Force has become a light switch. I don’t know how I got three bars on my GPS phone. It must – just happens, it’s magic. No, it ain’t magic. It’s 31 satellites being flown by airmen at Schriever Air Force Base right now, all right? I don’t know how I can key the microphone on this little hand-held radio in the valley with 10,000-foot mountains on both sides and somebody answers me from a thousand miles away. It’s magic. No, it’s not magic. Your signal just got bounced off an airborne layer that we’ve been flying over the top of you, amplified, sent up to the constellation, simulcast to five different locations, and the person that’s answering you is back in the United States.

So, here’s my concern. We don’t put the resources against some of these key mission sets that the entire joint team relies on, those lights aren’t going to come on, and so, we’ve got to do, you know, the best job we can of explaining some of the core capabilities that the United States Air Force provides to the joint force. I mean, the way we look at it in terms of the obligation that we have as a member of the joint team, you know, goes back to air superiority. I don’t ever want a Marine or a soldier or a sailor, an airman, who hears jet read – who hears jet noise, I don’t ever want them looking up; I want them looking directly into the eyes of their enemy because I want them to know in their heart that’s me. I don’t ever want them thinking that it’s somebody else. If we don’t invest in those capabilities, I’m going to have them looking up and that spells failure.

And so, right now the state of our Air Force, in terms of readiness, is that we’ve got serious challenges. When you take a look at – and by the way, every service develops readiness differently depending on the domains they operate in and the weapons systems they use. For an air component, there’s five things that goes into building readiness, right? You’ve got to have trained people, and that’s more than the pilots who just, you know, strap on the aircraft – that’s the maintainers, the air traffic controllers, the munitions builders, all the folks that have their fingerprints all over an aircraft before it takes off.

Then, you’ve got to have a weapons system sustainment program, and that’s not only just what you do on the flight line, it’s just as much back in the depos and making sure that you modernize the aircraft and keep them flying. Then, you’ve got to have a flying hour program that actually pays for the actually flying that you’re doing, and then, once you’ve got airborne you’ve got to have some place to go and train. You’ve got to have a range. You’ve got to have emitters. You’ve got to have threats that you can go up against, that you can train to a high-end threat, and then, you’ve got to have time to train.

And I mentioned before, we’ve got about a surge worth of capacity right now that’s in the Middle East. So, when you go to Shaw Airforce Base, you’re going to find one squadron that’s down range, one squadron that just got back, and one squadron that’s getting ready, right? That’s the story of where we are right now.

You go to each of those five elements of how we sustain readiness and build readiness. You take a look at where we’re – you know, there’s talk right now of going to a year-long continuing resolution, all right. That’s a $1.3 billion bill. I’m not going to be able to hire the people I need to get those aircraft airborne or have the pilots I need to actually fly those missions. I’m not going to be able to get aircraft in a depo; the lines are going to stop. The civilian hiring freeze will continue for the remainder of the year. I’m not going to have those flying hours to be able to get those things airborne. I’m not going to be able to invest in the training, and I’m not going to have any relief on the time.

So, you know, every once and awhile we talk about no-fly zones, let me describe a no-fly zone. Go to Shaw Air Force Base, if we get a yearlong CR, you know. There is no enemy on the planet that can do more damage to the United States Air Force then us not getting a budget.

MS. HICKS: Beyond resources, are there other key factors that you’re weighing in terms of readiness? Obviously, the resources are the most important piece, but other things that you’re looking for, either relief in or you’re working internally to improve in order to better the readiness of the force?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Number one, for me and for our Secretary, is people. The reality is that we had over time a demand signal – as you remember from your time in the department, when you get defense planning guidance it always tells you in three categories, right?

MS. HICKS: Well, it’s brilliant, first of all.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: I’m sure, I know. (Laughs.)

So, you remember the way we get guidance, right, is – say you need to increase your investment and decrease risk, maintain risk, right, and take risk. And for the Air Force, there’s been very few things in this category, right?

MS. HICKS: Yeah. Right.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Almost everything has been in this category, right?

MS. HICKS: Yeah.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: But you’ve got to make strategic trades. So, the demand still in the Air Force has really been in four key areas very consistently for the last 15 years, if not longer: space, cyber, ISR, nuclear enterprise. Well, if the budget’s coming down and the demand signal from the department is increase your investment there, you’ve got to go find some place to pay the bills, and where we went consistently, time after time after time, when we had to make strategic trades, was people, infrastructure and conventional airpower capacity.

And you could actually explain that in 2013. But when Russia got active in 2014 and invaded another country, when China got active and started militarizing islands in the South China Sea, when ISIS came back – the world changed in 2014. And so, that path that we were on, that was trading capacity and near-term readiness to be able to modernize for the future, given the demand signals we were getting, didn’t make sense anymore. So, right now we’ve got to get balance back, and for me, as I look across the Air Force, the number one thing we’ve got to get after is people. I’ve got to get the formations built back up just to flesh out the many documents for the missions we have been given, and that’s why you’ve heard me talk about, you know, over the next five to seven years, you know, moving forward to a larger Air Force to get the formations where they need to be.

MS. HICKS: So, let’s – this feeds directly to this issue of the longer-term readiness: modernization, innovation, RMA, transformation, third offset. The department has always had some kind of way of talking about the future. It’s in the bones of the Air Force, of course. It was built as a service of innovation.

So, what are the most important elements for you looking ahead to that long-term readiness? You mentioned in your opening remarks, for instance, the inability to – you didn’t say it this way – assure air superiority; maybe start there and if there are other areas that concern you.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, the – you know, it goes to the – again, back to the role of a service chief is – you know, part of my job is to predict what I think is the future conflict and prepare the service for that, while at the same time ensure we are winning the one we’re in. And as I look at future conflict, here’s what I see. I mean, I think in future conflict the victory will go to that individual who can actually turn data to decision, command and control his or her forces in a way that you can produce multiple dilemmas from multiple domains and multiple components at a rate and with a decision speed that overwhelms the adversary, which denying him the ability to do the same.

And so that’s why it comes to, for me, in looking at what Air Force brings to the team, and that’s command and control. I, as the air component commander for CENTCOM – I actually went into the job thinking that my primary duty will be to find, you know, what’s the ground force commander’s scheme of maneuver, what’s the attribute that he requires, and put the right asset overhead. And we did that. But actually what I did every day for General Mattis, when he was the CENTCOM commander, was I responsible for regional command and control. So it’s actually already what we do as a service.

So the focus – and oh, by the way, this is not about a place or some number of screens on a wall. This is about a new concept of operations that gets to – eventually a new way of acquiring weapons systems, because the – I would – I would offer the 20th century industrial age model is to focus on trucks and cargo, aircraft, munitions –

MS. HICKS: Platform-centric approach.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Platforms, right. And then – and then after, as you procure those, then you think about the highway they ride on. I think as we look toward the future, the highway, the network is going to be where we actually need to focus. And everything that rides on that network is actually an app or an aperture. And some of those – and there’s all kinds of attributes that go with what rides on the highway. They orbit, they fly, they float, they run, they submerge, they’re old and they’re new, they penetrate and they’re standoff, they’re conventional and unconventional, they’re attributable – I want them to know it’s me – they’re unattributable – I want them guessing.

So what we need to do in the future is get the network piece of this right, which is how we tie together all the domains and all the components and all of the weapon systems that then are, again, apps and aperture, are riding on the network to get to the point where we can get to that decision speed that I talked about. And so that to me is, where, you know, one of the major efforts that we’re focused on as an Air Force as we think through where we’re going in the future.

MS. HICKS: Do you – how would you describe your, I would assume, interactions with industry, whether they’re defense industry and/or broader afield of typical defense industry are important in that vein? Do you find that that’s a message that’s readily received?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: I will tell you that I’m meeting with – I’m in a continual dialogue with the CEOs of all the majors. I had a couple of them just this week. And you know, I describe this as one of the problems I need their help solving, because I actually think industry is going to help us solve this one, if we’re going to get it right. And there’s a story I tell, you know, inside the Air Force, but I also tell it when I’m out and about. And it’s one of the great innovative stories of our Air Force. And it’s the story of the F-117, which I got to fly as the last – you know, got to fly that weapon system.

And there’s this great story. In the conference room that I actually now have as the chief of staff, a guy named Ben Rich came out from the Skunk Works, Lockheed CEO. And he pulled a marble out of his jacket. And he rolled it across the table to then-Secretary Perry, the chief of staff of the Air Force. And they looked at the marble and they said, what’s that? And he said, that’s the radar cross section of what I’m about to build you. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So the two important points from that story is I ask, internal to the Air Force, is are we the service breaking barriers for the last 70 years? Are we able to accept the next marble? Or will it die a bureaucratic death, right, and never get a good hearing and never make it to me so we can take action on it. Or someone else in the organization that we’ve pushed decision authority down, that can look at that, you know, and say that’s a great idea. Let’s act on it.

And the other is the recognition that we didn’t cook up stealth in the United States military. We didn’t even know it was out there, right? This came from industry. They are the ones that developed it. They’re the ones that brought it to the United States military. And we happened to have the right folks there that received the idea and took action on it. So I want to make sure that’s the kind of Air Force we still are, because that’s in our blood.

MS. HICKS: Yeah. Acquisition reform obviously has been a big focus over the last several – it’s been a focus for a long time, but the modern form of it, I guess I would say, has been an active conversation on the Hill. There’s major legislation that passed last year, two years in a role, frankly, with regard to the service’s role. Do you feel like you, at this point, have the system you need, or that it’s optimized to what you need to get the best out of the marriage of industry and the Air Force?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: You know, I’d describe it the same way I described where we are in the nuclear enterprise. I think we’re trending in the right direction, not ready to plant a flag and declare victory. Because still there’s – actually, I think this is more of a journey than a destination, right? I think we’re in a continual journey to refine the way we do business. My role is the chief of staff of the Air Force, the chief requirements officer. And what I’ve found is that if we don’t get that part right, if we don’t set, you know, really solid requirements, then the rest of it tends to be a problem after the fact.

You know, we’re just coming – you know, we’re in the process right now of a new way of doing request for proposals, RFPs, with the new trainer. And we’re trying something a little different. We’ve had this ongoing, robust dialogue with industry on draft RFP after draft RFP, right? And so 13,000 inputs later from industry, which delayed the actual release of the RFP – because every time we go back and see, OK, here’s what we’re saying we need and then industry comes back and says, well, you know, here’s about what we have. OK, well then, let’s adjust that. And then here’s about what we need. Yeah, but if you adjusted it this way, here’s what we have. I mean, this is a robust dialogue back and forth.

So we’ve had – the final RFP is probably going to be one of the best we’ve ever delivered. I think that’s a new model for the future, because industry now understands a lot more what the customer wants, and the customer has a better understanding of what industry can provide. If you like the old way of doing business and you don’t like change and you just want us to give you the threshold requirements and stand back and let the competition begin, you probably don’t like this at all. If you like being in the dialogue and like having influence on the final request for proposal, you probably really like this. It’s still new. I think it’s the – I think it’s a pretty good model for the future. And I’m sure you’re going to see it play out.

MS. HICKS: Great. OK. I’m going to open it up to audience questions. We have mics that will come around. When I call on you, please give us your name and if you have an affiliation, your affiliation. So I’ll take one right up here.

Q: Hi, General Goldfein. Leigh Giangreco, Flightglobal.

I wanted to ask about LRSO. My understanding is that it’s going to actually be smaller than the current ALCM. So I was wondering if you could give us a better idea of what that says about the size and scope of the bomber and what it’s going to be able to carry – the new bomber, the B-21 – in comparison to the legacy bombers.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah. You know, the – again, back to the role of the service chief. This would go for me in the nuclear business, and Admiral Richardson, CNO, together. So our job is to organize, train and equip, and present ready forces to the combatant commander. The new bomber is a key part of that force. But it’s the combatant commander who has actually been given the end states and the objectives by the commander in chief that he built his operational plans against – or, you know, she built her plans against, right? And so what I need to do is provide forces to be able to achieve those objectives. And General Hyten, when it comes to the nuclear force, is the one responsible to the commander in chief for executing those missions.

And so while we will deliver a capability that will be able to penetrate enemy defenses, the tankers that take that bomber to where it needs to be cannot penetrate. And each leg of the triad has got to be able to hold targets at risk. And so, again, as part of the nuclear posture review, we’re going to take a – I’m sure a fresh look at all of the legs, all of the munitions, all of the capabilities. But we’re going to score those capabilities against what the combatant commander needs to be able to accomplish this mission. And the LRSO is going to be a key part of that.

Q: Maybe just to clarify my question, and more directly I guess, does this tell us that the B-21 is going to be the same size as the B-2? Because the LRSO is smaller than the ALCM.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: No, it doesn’t. (Laughter.)

MS. HICKS: Great. OK.

Q: No, it doesn’t – sorry –

MS. HICKS: No, it doesn’t tell you?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: No, it doesn’t tell you.

Q: All right. OK. (Laughter.)

MS. HICKS: Right over here we have a question.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: It doesn’t actually tell you anything.

Q: OK. (Laughter.)

Q: Hi, General Goldfein. Rob Levinson, Bloomberg Government, retired Air Force myself.

Sir, you said something about the ICBM is the most responsive leg of the triad. I’d like you to unpack that a little bit. So, if the president of the United States wants the nuclear submarine force to strike something, what is the problem with responsiveness of that force? Why is the ICBM more responsive than the nuclear submarine force?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, that’s a good question, because it allows me to clarify it. Actually, those attributes were not in competition, or those attributes I laid out were not prioritized, right? Meaning that each of the legs – depending on what the president chooses, each one of the legs of the triad is equally responsive. But if he wants something to happen within individual minutes, the one that he can turn to the quickest of the three would be the missile fields. But clearly, if – depending on the indications and warnings, the posture of the force, how the combatant commander has the force set, he’s got responsive capabilities in all three of the legs.

MS. HICKS: Great. OK, we have one all the way in the back here.

Q: Hello, General. Feng Swa (ph) with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.

I have a question about the – because recently there was a newly released, revised Chinese aircraft, J-31, the newest version, which indicates that it has some newly weapon-loaded capacity. So I remember last year that you mentioned in the Pentagon, that you said the comparison with the Chinese J-20 and J-31 cannot compete with the U.S. F-35 or -22. So do you have any – some new studies on the Chinese newest aircraft?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah. You know what? We were talking about this a little bit earlier. I hope over time we can actually evolve our discussion between platform-v-platform, which I would argue is a very 20th century discussion, to a network-v-network. Because to actually have a comparison, it’s not about what the F-35 or the J-20 or the F-22 or the J-31 can actually do in a, you know, one-v-one. That’s almost – it’s an interesting dialogue to have, but it’s actually not very compelling because we’re not going to ever have the F-35 in there by itself ever. We do family of systems.

What really counts is the fact that we’re going to bring a network of family of systems to bear on the enemy. And that’s going to be an F-35, that’s there with an F-22, that’s there with an F-18. It’s there with, you know, space capabilities that’s being fed into the cockpit. That’s there with cyber capabilities. That’s there with high-altitude ISR. That’s there with, you know, a submarine force. That’s there – right? We’re going to bring multidomain, multicomponent capabilities. And we’re going to bring coalition capabilities, because I don’t see conflict in the future changing from a strategy that’s by, with and through allies and partners.

So for me to answer the question about what the J-31 versus one particular platform, I won’t go there because, again, what we really need to have a discussion about is what’s the network that we will be up against between the family of systems that we’re going to bring to bear? That’s going to be our asymmetric advantage because we’re going to, as we do today, in the future we’re going to be able to achieve decision speed and maneuver forces from all domains and create so many dilemmas for the enemy that that in itself will become a deterrent value.

MS. HICKS: Great. Can I have the next question? One right here.

Q: (Inaudible) – China News Daily.

You know, this month Marine Corps F-35 has landed in Japan. And Asia – and the Pacific commander has held it has, say, begin our new aviation era. So what is the future of Air Force’s F-35 and its uses in Asia-Pacific area? Thank you.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yes. I’m let me – I’m going to – let me repeat your question, just to make sure I have it right. The F-35 going into Japan?

MS. HICKS: The role of the F-35, basically, in the Asia-Pacific in the future, I believe is the question.


So it’s actually part of a – you know, an interesting dialogue about the continued balance in the Pacific. For the Air Force, it’s actually an interesting story, because we actually haven’t changed significantly our footprint in the Pacific over time. It’s actually been fairly stable, you know, over time. As a matter fact, there’s some folks up on the front row I think who commanded over there in the Pacific. And we really haven’t changed our force structure. But if you look everywhere else in the world, we’ve changed it significantly. You know, when I served in Europe not that long ago we had 11 wings of 39 squadrons in Europe. We got three wings and nine squadrons total right now in Europe. So the balance in the Pacific is actually more not about what we’ve added to the Pacific, but the fact that we’ve kept the Pacific very stable from an air component standpoint while we’ve taken other forces down in other areas.

So now, specific to the F-35, it actually goes to my previous answer, which is the F-35 will always be part of a network. But we built the F-35 so that it has the capability of information fusion that we have actually not seen on previous aircraft. It is its own sensor. And so let me describe for you what the F-35 debut looked like at Red Flag in an F-35B, bravo, with young Marine Corps Captain Hedges on his mission commander check ride, leading 100 aircraft into battle on the Nellis Range Base in Nevada at 2:00 in the morning, in this F-35B.

The cyber campaign had been ranging before he actually stepped to the airplane. And when he gets into the airplane, he’s already getting indications sent to him on how that campaign is going before he’s even taxied. The space campaign has been ranging for 30 minutes before he gets actually on the tanker. And we’re usual actual techniques over the Nellis ranges as we’re doing the operations in space that are supporting his campaign, while he pushes across the line against the most robust enemy integrated air missile defense system that we could put up against him, with 100 aircraft across the line.

He gets told that he has a high-value target convoy that’s in the middle of the range while he’s flying, and he has to – he has maneuver forces and call an audible in the middle of the fight while he’s doing that. Then he gets told that an F-16’s been shot down, and he has to orchestrate and entire combat search and rescue in the middle of that campaign. He’s calling audibles as the quarterback of the entire joint force based on the displays that he’s got in his cockpit and the fusion of information that he’s getting from both on – in his cockpit and from all the other aspects of the network.

That’s the F-35. And so if you don’t think about the network and how the F-35 controls, dominates, and uses the network, you’re not have a 21 st-century conversation about the family of systems that we bring to the fight.

MS. HICKS: OK. We had a question right here.

Q: Good morning. My name is Danielle (sp). I’m from the Arms Control Association.

And actually, my question is also about the F-35. Obviously it’s a big expense. And from my understanding, it was a model for the export chain of production. And is there a possibility of the export chain use, still a possibility of future arms and military production, due to the big expense of the F-35?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, make sure I got it right. This is a question about the production line, and the numbers coming off the line.

Q: Yes. Yes.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah. So this actually, again, sort of goes back to my three hats. So as the service chief, I’ve got to make sure that the United States Air Force part of that line maintains the pace that we need to be able to get as many F-35s as we can get, as soon as we can get them. In my role as a joint chief, as the largest customer, I have a responsibility and obligation to my fellow joint chiefs – you know, General Neller and Admiral Richardson – who are also procuring F-35 versions, to ensure that I’m working with the contractor to keep that line healthy for them. And then in my third hat, as a global air chief, I’ve got a responsibility to all my fellow global air chiefs, who are either already in the program or contemplating getting into the program, to make sure that the line gets healthy and stays healthy as part of this program.

So right now, you know, we’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about cost of the F-35, you know, where we’re going with the F-35. I will tell you that I just described the F-35 Bravo’s debut. We recently had the F-35 Alpha debut at Red Flag. And it performed – I mean, it really performed brilliantly. Part of what we struggle with right now is it’s been so long since we’ve procured a new aircraft that we’ve lost a little bit of our muscle memory of what it’s like to actually bring on a new weapons system.

And so what I’ve found happens is that we keep thinking too long that this is a PowerPoint aircraft. We’ve got 100 aircraft flying. We’ve literally flown thousands of hours on this aircraft. The Marines have already doing a combat deployment. We’re getting ready to do a combat deployment in the F-35. I mean, we’re initial-operating capable. This is not a PowerPoint airplane. This is an aircraft that’s flying an is ready for combat. So my job and those three hats are to ensure that we continue to bring on that capability, because it’s not only what the nation needs – because it’s the quarterback of our family of systems – it’s also what my joint partners need, it’s what my fellow global air chiefs need. Thanks.

MS. HICKS: Great. OK. There’s a question here.

Q: Hi. Valerie Insinna with Defense News.

So, you talked, I think, like, last month, about the Air Force thinking of doing some experimentation with industry about light attack air craft, in order to supplement some readiness concerns that you guys have. And there are a lot of aircraft that could fit into that space. And I think it’s still kind of unclear the mix of capabilities you guys are looking for and the type of threats you would want to defeat. Can you talk a little bit about that? And also, answer the question, you know, why not RPAs? Why not just buying more Reapers, or something like that?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah. And actually, the short answer to your question is, I don’t know how many platforms are out there. That’s why we’re doing the experiment. And why not RPAs? No reason not to have RPAs. We’re going to be looking at those too. This is actually just a continuation of a dialogue. It’s not actually all that new. So we – again, when I was air component commander, we did this operational test downrange called – you may remember hearing about it – it was called Combat Dragon. And what we did is we wanted to take a look at it and say, hey, how would a light attack aircraft perform in this particular environment – in a desert environment, in an environment where, you know, it’s not necessarily a contested environment in the air, you’ve got somewhat freedom to maneuver. You know, how would it be able to operate?

So we have all the operational data from that test. And so this is the next iteration which is, OK, we got the data. Industry, what do you got? What do you got that’s shovel-ready? I’m not – I’m not interested in something that requires a lot of research and development here. I’m looking for something that I can get out right now – commercial, off-the-shelf, low cost, that can operate an in uncontested environment, that can deliver the capabilities that we need, that also can be something that perhaps our allies and partners that are in this fight with us – and if you assume this fight will be going on for a little bit of time, there’s room and time for us to get after this. So the next step of the process, from an operational, you know, test downrange, to now an experimentation is to go to industry and say, OK, here’s the operational outcomes of Combat Dragon II. Show me what you got.

Q: Have you guys gotten money for that yet?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: No, that’s in this submission. But it’s not a lot of money to do an experiment. And it’s actually one of the authorities that came to the service chiefs in the new legislation, so I’m exercising it.

Q: So it’s in the supplementary budget request?


Q: OK.

MS. HICKS: OK. OK, right here.

Q: Thanks. Good morning, Chief. Greg Brundidge from CSRA.

Pulling the thread on the cyber discussion a little bit, you know, we all see the services, like you deal with the organize, train and equip side, or protecting what you use to do that and then contributing to the COCOM, you know, the joint warfighter. The lines get grayed when it – when you look at how you resource that. And with the secretary of defense’s new memo on how he’s going to kind of come in and look for duplication, do you see any changes in how those capabilities that are similar – you know, on the industry side we see a lot of duplications in the services of building some of the same things, but this one being for Army, this one being for Air Force. Any changes on the horizon for how those common things are going to be done so that perhaps you leverage, you know, some of those commonalities and do them once for many?

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, maybe. You know, here’s my sense, is that, as we do the review, we’ll look at those things which are uniquely military that we have to retain within the military, whether it’s from an authorities perspective or a legal perspective, a Title 10 or a unified command plan perspective. I mean, there will – there will be certain things that we’ve got to keep within military channels because of the uniqueness of that capability relative to the mission that we perform for the combatant commanders, and eventually for the commander in chief.

But there’s a lot that doesn’t fall into that category. And I think that’s where you’re going, which is, as we really define that in this relatively new warfighting domain, are there capabilities that we can actually lean on industry more or the commercial sector, both in – you know, in defense and in offense? And I think the answer to that is absolutely we got to look at that, because if we can find – you know, look, no service chief that would ever sit up here is telling me he’s looking for more work. We’re all pretty busy. And so if we can find some way to leverage industry to be able to get at the capabilities we need, but ensure that we’re complying with the law and complying with our values in terms of how we fight, then I think we ought to take a look at it. And I’m sure, knowing Secretary Mattis, that he’ll be having us look at that.

MS. HICKS: OK, one last question. Got a hand right here.

Q: Joshua McCallan (ph), World Affairs Council.

So, in Syria, the Air Force deployed a pair of OV-10 Broncos, old aircraft from the Vietnam War. Is there any chance that for – in the search for a better close-air support aircraft that the Air Force could see some inspiration in looking to the past? It seems that the OV-10 has had a stellar record during our trials in Syria.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, actually it’s the same – I’ll just show it to you, the same thing I was sharing with Valerie, right, which is this is a continuation of, again, that experiment or that test that you just described. But I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t actually describe it as, you know, looking to the past, right? There’s some actual, you know – the OV-10, when we flew it in Vietnam, I think, last time I checked, the only sensor on that aircraft were these. (Points to both eyes.) (Laughter.) And every once in a while, you know, these. (Shapes hands as binoculars.) (Laughter.) All right? (Laughs.) We’re way beyond that.

And so, while there may be some parts of a light-attack, low-cost aircraft that could be very responsive, that can be expeditionary in nature, while those kinds of things you could probably say, well, that’s what it used to be – and I would say, yeah, because that part of warfare hadn’t changed. But the network that that weapon system will plug into, and how we ensure that as it then becomes part of the family of systems – that in our business, one plus one always equals three or more. As long as we’re heading that direction, we’re heading the right direction.

MS. HICKS: Before we go, I wanted to let you expand a little on the comment you made very early on about Russia and Russian capabilities. Obviously, there’s an air component to the European Reassurance Initiative. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about, before we close out here, what value you’re thinking the Air Force can bring to that NATO Article 5 and below Article 5 threshold challenges that we’re facing from Russia.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah. You know, I’ll tell you, Kathleen, is that, as I look at the European challenge and look at General Scaparotti’s operational plan – and you know, one of our finest warfighters we’ve ever raised, a guy named Tod Wolters, is our USAFE commander over there, and also the commander of Air Force Africa Command. As he looks at the laydown of forces, what we need to have first and foremost is basing. Because, as a land-based air component, a base is actually part of our weapon system. I mean, think about the Whiteman strike. Whiteman Air Force Base was as much a part of that strike as the B-2s that launched. So where our focus has been in the European Response (sic; Reassurance) Initiative, or ERI, has been primarily investment in infrastructure across a variety of bases across Europe so that I could rapidly bring forces to bear if we need to.

It’s also one reason why, again, I have concerns about the readiness of the Air Force. Because if you look at the operational plans from every combatant commander, 80 percent of the United States Air Force needs to be forward in the first couple months – 80 percent. So tiered readiness doesn’t work for an Air Force, right? I don’t – that doesn’t meet the combatant commander requirements. I got to have 80 percent of the United States Air Force that’s full-spectrum ready against a near-peer adversary within the first couple months of any campaign. And so we’re nowhere near where we need to be, and so that’s where my readiness concerns lie right now.

I mean, if you were to ask me, are you ready to sustain the current campaign in the Middle East for the next 10 years, I’d tell you if that’s all I got to do, yes.

MS. HICKS: Right.

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Not a problem. I got the right supervision forward. I got the right aircraft forward. I got the parts I need. I’m getting the flying time I need. Readiness is high. Morale if high. If that’s all I got to do, I can take the risk back home, and that’s sustainable. If you tell me that, actually, the Defense Strategic Guidance says that you need to be doing that in the Middle East without relief, and defend the homeland, and have a safe, secure, reliable nuclear deterrent, and ensure that you are ready to put 80 percent of the force forward against a near-peer adversary, I will tell you I’ve got big concerns. We got to rebuild that.

MS. HICKS: Very good.

Well, General Goldfein, I want to thank you so much for your time this morning. I want to thank you and all the airmen for their service to the country. And please join me in a round of applause. (Applause.)