Goldfein: Optimistic about future of airpower

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Bryan Franks
  • Secretary of the Air Force Command Information
Equals part challenge and opportunity -- that’s how Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein described as the current state of the Air Force March 10 during a Defense Programs Conference in Washington, D.C.

“As I stand here today, I could not be more optimistic about our future,” Goldfein said to the defense industry audience. “Your Air Force today is too small, too old, less ready and out of balance for the challenges that we as a nation are going to face for the next decade to two decades and what the Air Force brings to the joint team … but also, as I stand here today, we have unlimited opportunity right now.”

Most of America, he said, still remembers the Air Force of Operation Desert Storm. It was a time when there were 134 fighter squadrons across the total force from which the Air Force deployed 33 squadrons to execute operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Now there are only 55 fighter squadrons, he added. The Air Force has nearly 240,000 less total force Airmen than during those operations.

“Over the last 25 years the demand for airpower as the world has gotten more and more unstable has actually gone up,” Goldfein said. “So we have gotten smaller over time as the demand for what we bring to the joint fight has gone up … we are too small.”

Goldfein said the challenges of an aging fleet also effect Air Force readiness.

“When we went into Desert Storm, the average age of the aircraft was 17 years,” he said. “Today, the average age across the fleet of all of our aircraft is 27 years old.”

With the force getting smaller and equipment getting older, the challenges around the world have begun to take their toll. Readiness is one of the most difficult obstacles for the Air Force, he said, because the service has so many mission requirements.

“Our portfolio, of the four services, is clearly the broadest,” Goldfein said. “When we are asked, ‘what is the state of your readiness?’ It’s actually a complex answer because we really need to answer the question with a question, ‘ready for what?’

“If you were to ask me, ‘are we ready for the fight in the Middle East against violent extremism?’ The answer is absolutely yes, 100 percent.”

But Goldfein isn’t sure the service would be ready for every scenario. The Air Force has had to make tough choices over the past 15 years to meet the needs of combatant commanders and the changing battlefield environment.

“If you have a fixed (budget) and it’s going down and the demand from the service is to increase your investments in space, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), cyber and nuclear enterprise then you’ve got to find some way to pay those bills,” Goldfein said.

The way the force has paid those bills, he said, is reductions to manpower and conventional airpower.

According to Goldfein, the Air Force flew zero combat air patrols 15 years ago. The Air Force is now flying 60, and that number is expected to increase. The Air Force has invested billions of dollars in creating the space mission force so America and its allies and partners can operate.

To defend the network and to operate in cyberspace, the Air Force is on track for 39 of its mission teams to contribute to cyber command by the end of 2018. The nuclear enterprise is critical to global deterrence and requires significant investment in not only reinvigorating, but modernizing the capability.

“If you take a look at the demand signals in the United State Air Force, and knowing we had to balance against a decreasing budget topline, you can see why the only place we had to go was people and conventional air power,” Goldfein said. “It’s not just about fighters and bombers, it’s command and control and it’s ranges and infrastructure. We’re the service that actually fights from our bases, so when we talk about bases, they are part of how we employ airpower and how we present forces.”

Over the past several years, the Air Force put together a vision that provided a path for where the service needs to be in 2030.

“There was an inclusive dialogue that occurred with MAJCOM (major command) commanders, combatant commanders, think tanks, industry and academia,” Goldfein said. “We took two years to get it right ... we call it the Air Force Future Operating Concept. When we became a separate service in 1947 we were given five missions: air superiority, ISR, global mobility, global strike, and command and control. Those five missions have morphed, technology has changed, but we still have the same five missions that we do for the nation.”

Goldfein also delivered remarks later in the day when he participated in a panel discussion during the Future of War Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.

During a panel discussion titled “Where will the military innovation of the future come from,” Goldfein responded to a question on how Airmen today can prepare themselves now for future warfare while optimizing their contributions to the Air Force and the military.

“It all starts with character,” Goldfein said. “We are on a lifelong journey to develop our character. Sometimes we get focused on reputation. As we move through the ranks, we confuse character and reputation. Character is who we are every day and what we do when no one is watching. Reputation is what people think of us after watching us for a period of time. We need to focus on the first and the second will take care of itself.”

(Editor’s note: Master Sgt. Lesley Waters contributed to the article)