NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland –
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. urged the Total Force Sept. 19 to focus intently, to move fast and “accelerate change” in reshaping the service to meet modern-day threats that are fundamentally different – and more complex – than those of the previous 30 years.
And while the emerging security threats, particularly those posed by our “pacing, acute, and unforeseen challenges,” Brown told Airmen during his keynote address at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference he is confident the moment will be met.
“We have done this before, and we can do it again,” Brown told an audience of more than 2,500 Airmen, government and industry officials and assorted airpower advocates, using specific moments from the service’s 75-year history to validate his confidence.
“We now find ourselves in a pivotal period, one that is fundamentally reshaping the international security landscape,” Brown said. “And while our nation was focused on countering violent extremists for two decades, our competitors focused on matching our way of war.
“Our tactical skills are sharp, but we need to reframe our thinking to meet the challenges we will face in the future. In many ways, today’s security environment parallels our past,” he said.
Brown told Airmen that the service’s culture must adapt along with policies, practice and tactics. In that regard, he said there are “five areas that will drive culture change:”
- Mission Command;
- Force Generation;
- Agile Combat Employment;
- Multi-Capable Airmen, and;
- The Wing A-Staff construct.
“We must do it now,” Brown said, referring to the five areas, “because our adversaries will not wait for us to perfect these concepts.”
Brown reinforced the premise by taking the audience along for a ride through history.
In 1948, when the Soviet Union attempted to strangle West Berlin by blockading land routes into the city of two million, the Air Force commenced a massive airlift to sustain the city and prove a critical geopolitical point, that U.S. airpower could be delivered anywhere at any time.
“Without firing a shot, we embarked on the largest aerial resupply mission in history during Operation Vittles, landing at Tempelhof Airport every 45 seconds and delivering more than 13 thousand tons of cargo in one single day,” Brown said.
In the 1950s, when fears of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capability rose, the Air Force locked arms with industry and academia to design, test, build and launch an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile in just two years.
The trend continued in the 1970s and 1980s, Brown said, when the Air Force again played a major role in developing stealth technology.
The tangible – if not always visible – result of that effort, Brown said, was “a brand new and revolutionary capability, the F-117 Nighthawk, in record time (and) paving the way for the stealth technology we see today.”
The record is uninterrupted decade by decade. In the 1990s during the 78-day air campaign waged to end Yugoslavia’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians saw “multiple firsts for our Air Force,” Brown said. Among the most prominent was the fielding of the first MQ-1 Predator, the first operational use of the B-2 bomber, and the first time the Combined Air Operations Center was employed as a weapon system.
And in 2001, of course, after the attacks on U.S. soil, the Air Force, along with the United States “we rose as Americans and saw the strength of our nation when challenged.”
“At every stage, with every new trial, no matter how uncomfortable it felt we proved that we could rise above any challenge. We proved that we were willing to take the risks. And we proved that we could solve any problem by collaborating across our Air Force and within (the Department of Defense), with allies and partners, industry, academia,” he said.
In those examples and more, the Air Force distinguished itself and protected the nation by “driving outcomes; challenging the status quo and not waiting for the perfect conditions to act,” he said.
It was fueled “through experimentation, rapid prototyping, adapting new ideas, and having a bias for action, risk-taking, and creative disruption across all levels of Airmen,” he said.
In order to succeed this time, Brown said the Air Force must harness those same qualities and culture but refine it for modern challenges. Foremost, he said, is the need to maximize collaboration.
Brown has dubbed this approach “integrated by design,” as it relates to working closely with allies and partners at the beginning “with the end in mind.”
Brown also emphasized a point he has made before – that success is driven by creative and determined Airmen who are the power behind the changes the Air Force needs to succeed.
“We must harness any innovation that can put meaningful capability in the hands of warfighters. We can’t let ‘perfect’ to be the enemy of ‘good enough.’”
Turning to the audience, Brown put the onus directly on them. “You are the heart of our innovation, and I am constantly reminded that each of you drive the potential of our technology and the potential of our ideas; both are limitless.
“Our Airmen, the ones sitting here in this room, the ones getting the J-O-B done every day on our bases all around the globe – active, Guard, Reserve, and civilian – and our vast and incredible partners in industry and academia,” Brown said.
“These are not new challenges,” Brown said. “But the complexity and combination are more than ever before … We know strategic competition, and we know what it means to accelerate change.”
Brown closed with a note of optimism.
“Last year I told you that I don’t believe in impossible,” Brown said. “We have done this before, and we will do it again.”