SSgt. Carl Josephson (l) talks to USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein (r) about his mission with the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla. Photo: Samuel King Jr./USAF
Two years after Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein named it as one of his top three focus areas at AFA’s 2016 Air, Space & Cyber Conference, the service has now matured its thinking on multi-domain operations, or MDO. Goldfein said in an August interview with Air Force Magazine that he is confident USAF is heading in the right direction when it comes to communicating and fighting across air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace.
Goldfein said when he first took the helm as USAF’s top uniformed officer he asked himself where the service “needed to be in 2030.”
The Air Force, he determined, no longer has the luxury of being able to take its time developing new capabilities. Peer adversaries have studied US military operations, are quickly improving their capabilities, and “contest our dominance in all domains.” USAF must move fast to ensure it stays ahead of these adversaries, and “if deterrence fails, we must be ready to win in a peer-to-peer conflict,” he added.
To accomplish this, the service set out to better organize its squadrons and make them more lethal, develop its leaders and give them the tools they need to successfully lead joint teams, and to figure out how it can leverage technology and improve its force presentation, enabling airmen to make quicker decisions while simultaneously operating in multiple domains.
“Multi-domain operations is really about thinking through how we penetrate, where we need to penetrate; how we protect what we need to protect inside a contested space; how we persist in that environment for the period of time that we have to remain there,” said Goldfein. He added, “Our nation knows how to do that, but that muscle has atrophied a bit. That’s why you hear a lot of us talking about this attribute of speed. It’s not only speed in executing warfare. It’s speed in how we’re preparing for warfare. It’s speed in how we acquire. It’s speed in changing our concept of operations. It’s speed in terms of how we develop the leaders of the future.”
But future Air Force supremacy is not just about ensuring dominance in the air, space, and cyber domains mentioned in USAF’s mission statement. The US also must maintain dominance on the land and sea, and each branch of the military must be able to work together to make that happen. That’s what Brig. Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, the director of current operations and the head of Goldfein’s multi-domain command and control (MDC2) initiative, has been working on, building MDC2 to enable better multi-domain operations.
“Our MDC2 structure directing operations will be resilient and operationally agile,” Goldfein added.
The Air Force has met with general officers from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and US Special Operations Command to figure out how the services can work together to improve multi-domain operations in a contested environment.
A round of these talks, said Goldfein, concluded this year and now the services are moving forward with a series of exercises aimed at testing out the theories discussed. The question, said Goldfein, is “How do we actually move forward with building the resiliency we need to be able to operate?” Resiliency, he emphasized, comes from leaders who “understand mission command and can operate without being ultraconnected, and in our systems to ensure that not only do we have multiple pathways to be able to operate, but that we understand the operational picture in ways that our adversaries just can’t.”
The Air Force and the Navy conducted such an exercise earlier this year, during which the services connected systems that aren’t typically connected to see what would happen. “It was really successful,” said Goldfein. “I think in terms of not only what we were able to accomplish, perhaps more importantly, [in] laying out the path for the future.”
USAF and Army leaders also met on Aug. 6 to look at ways to better integrate open architecture systems to bolster “speed, precision, and agility on the battlefield,” according to an Army press release. The summit was a “precursor to a sensor-to-shooter demo planned for spring 2019, which will prototype an open architecture, machine-to-machine capability to integrate targeting solutions generated from Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms into Army long-range precision fires to dramatically shorten the kill chain,” states the release. That exercise will be a collaborative effort between the Air Force and Army Rapid Capabilities Offices.
“If you have those Air Force assets, how do you get that information to the Army in a challenging environment to bring those fires to bear?” asked Lt. Col. Rodrick Koch, program manager with the Air Force RCO, in the Army release. “How do we address threats in denied environments? There is a lot of opportunity here.”
USAF and Navy personnel train together at JB Lewis-McChord, Wash. Photo: Douglas Stutz/Naval Hospital Bremerton/USN
Speaking to an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute crowd last year, Saltzman said in the future things like targeting cycles will require multiple combatant commanders to work together to determine what targets should be placed on what list. “That’s not an inconsequential thing, when you’re talking about a battle rhythm,” he said. Sometimes that “requires crossing 12 to 16 different time zones to orchestrate.”
But in such an operation, what does the command structure look like, and what are the general rules of engagement?
To answer those questions, and many others, the service is establishing the “Doolittle Wargame series,” which will be held annually. The first exercise is slated for October at Maxwell AFB, Ala. The players will be a mix of subject-matter experts from the 505th Command and Control Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., which overseas initial qualification training for airmen assigned to the service’s Air Operations Centers, as well as joint and coalition partners, and students from the Air Command and Staff College and Air Warfare College, said Saltzman.
Industry also is taking it upon itself to exercise concepts and technologies that can be utilized in multi-domain operations. Also in August, Lockheed Martin hosted its fourth Multi-Domain Command and Control exercise with 14 Active Duty airmen from various air, space, and cyber backgrounds, including some representatives from the 505th CCW, at Lockheed’s innovation center in Suffolk, Va.
The exercise took Lockheed Martin eight months to plan and cost the company about $1.5 million. The goal was not necessarily to “win” the exercise, but to test out a whole new concept of operations for planning and force presentation. Also being evaluated were new tools under development by the company and the Air Force Research Laboratory to allow the customer—USAF—to more quickly and efficiently conduct operations across multiple domains. The domains in this case were air, space, and cyber, said Bryan Gates of Lockheed Martin, one of the coleaders of the exercise.
Representatives from AFRL and those planning the Doolittle exercise observed the Lockheed exercise, and the company plans to conduct a “road show” in the fall where it can share lessons learned with others working on MDC2.
“The next step in the evolution of our Air Force is to unleash the potential of [multi-domain Operations,”] Goldfein told Air Force Magazine. “Our foundation for conducting MDO is fielding exceptionally well-trained, educated, and experienced airmen.”
Moving forward, training and education will be key, because USAF doesn’t currently have a process that builds command and control experts, Saltzman has said. Today, roughly 86 percent of airmen who are assigned to work in an air operations center only do one AOC assignment, “never to return again,” he said. “It’s a very small percentage of people who do multiple tours in an AOC, which gives them the chance to really get good at it.”
Saltzman acknowledged another problem is the Air Force’s “tribal nature,” in which airmen stick closely to their Air Force Specialty Code throughout their career to ensure they continue to be promotable.
“In recognition of that, we decided we have to create a new tribe,” he said.
That “tribe,” will be the new “13 Oscar” career field. The idea is for airmen to spend the first half of their career working in their “accession career field,” gaining expertise in their specialty area, whether it be flying fighters or tankers, operating space assets, or operating in cyberspace. Then at the nine- to 12-year point, “a small portion” of airmen will crossflow over to the 13O career field, where they will spend the rest of their career doing command and control work in places such as air operations centers or at Fort Meade, Md.
Goldfein said the service will organize, train, and equip its force in a way that sets it up for success leading and executing future multi-domain operations. USAF will train airmen to think and fight through adversity even when their capabilities are somehow degraded. Better Air Force MDO capabilities will undoubtedly preserve the ability to hold enemies at risk even in evolving, unpredictable battlespaces.
Enemies have studied the way the US goes to war and are pursuing anti-access and area-denial strategies to offset American advantages. Goldfein asked, “How do we think our way through … not having complete dominance over a particular area,” but retaining the ability to perform “the military missions that we’re required to accomplish
Anti-access/area-denial strategies tend “to give a visual that some country can put a block of wood over the top of it,” he noted, but successful multi-doman capabilities will allow the Air Force to counter this.
“I like to think of it more like Swiss cheese. There are holes there, and it’s our job to be able to understand what those are and exploit them,” said Goldfein.
He added, “So it’s beyond the business of just merely integrating. It’s about actually being able to converge capabilities in ways that today we haven’t been able to put together in meaningful ways.”
Ultimately, Goldfein concluded that these MDO improvments will come together to ensure the Air Force is ready “to meet the challenges” laid out in the National Defense Strategy.