Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein urged fellow air chiefs from 39 nations to fully embrace, institute and refine a warfighting approach that links air, sea, land, space, cyber and information assets in a powerful system for identifying threats and defeating them.
The complex effort, known as multi-domain operations or MDO, “will change the character of modern warfare” Goldfein said in a closely scrutinized keynote address at the Air and Space Power Conference 2019 in London July 18.
“Where we are going is using dominance in one domain or many, blending a few capabilities or many, to produce multiple dilemmas for our adversaries in a way that will overwhelm them,” Goldfein said.
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.
It requires instilling a new culture that moves thinking away from a single “platform” to using a highly connected, agile and resilient system. It refines the familiar command chain to use more heavily artificial intelligence and machine learning that yields better options faster. As Goldfein explained in his appearance to the air chiefs, it means creating a system where “people are on the loop, not in the loop.”
“Where we are going, I believe, will change the character of modern warfare,” he said.
For the most part, Goldfein’s remarks fell on a receptive audience. The conference, which is one of the most influential air power gatherings each year, attracted more than 40 air chiefs from around the world. Many of those nations are moving to install a multi-domain approach, which explains why the conference focus was “Multi-Domain Operations for the Next Generation Air Force.”
Underpinning Goldfein’s focus on multi-domain operations is his belief – commonly and often expressed for more than a year – that modern warfare and tactics are as much about “cognition” as distinct weapon systems.
“Our nations are investing in a wide array of technologies which will play key roles in how we advance our combat capabilities, but modernization is not defined solely by hardware; it requires change in the ways we organize and employ forces,” he said.
“Victory in combat will depend less on individual capabilities and more on the integrated strengths of a connected network of weapons, sensors and analytic tools. This is important because as air component commanders of the world, we are uniquely positioned to integrate capabilities and we are often the ones who must pull it all together,” he said.
With broad agreement on the importance of MDO, Goldfein used his speech to identify specific steps the United States Air Force has taken to establish the programs.
“I can report to you today that the U.S. Air Force has made some progress,” he said.
The U.S. Air Force, he said, created a new officer career field “focused on multi-domain command and control” and how that connects to operational warfare.
The Air Force has established a “shadow” operations center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that offers the ability to “exercise and experiment” with multi-domain warfighting concepts. Those two steps will refine the operation, identify important problems and, perhaps most importantly, provide a clear and tangible signal of the new, and necessary, culture.
The Air Force has developed a warfighting integration capability in the Pentagon “to help design a future MDO force and make the hard choices about future investments.”
Overarching all of it, Goldfein said, is an understanding decisions ahead must “go beyond tradeoffs between platforms, sensors and weapons … and instead build integrated systems that allow us to close kill chains at a speed our adversaries can never counter.”