Brown: USAF’s Too Focused on Chinese Assets, Not Enough on Intent

The Air Force has an inadequate understanding of China as a potential adversary, service Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. warned Oct. 28.

Brown, speaking during a Hoover Institution virtual event, said that while the National Defense Strategy outlines China as a key potential adversary, the USAF is too focused on how many planes the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has, how many rockets they can fire, and how far they can fly. The service needs to “start broadening and deepening our thinking of how the PRC operates, how the People’s Liberation Army Air Force operates. How they think, how they make decisions,” he said.

The idea is a key part of Brown’s “Accelerate Change, or Lose” directive, which he released shortly after taking office this summer. In the document, Brown wrote that the study of potential adversaries needs to become a bigger part of the training and education provided to Airmen. The push does not just apply to China. Brown wrote that to be ready for a high-end fight, the service also needs a “deep institutional understanding” of Russia, “starting with recruitment and accession, and through all of our Airmen and leader development programs.”

By the Air Force having a better understanding of China, it can “actually execute, and fly, and operate, and exercise with partners in the region. We can have a better sense of how it contributes to competition, how it better contributes to assurance and deterrence,” said Brown, whose previous job was commanding Pacific Air Forces.

Additionally, having a better understanding across the force can guide exercises and planning to ensure that “we don’t trigger something, or are asleep at the switch when things are going on,” he said.

The Air Force does contribute to the military’s understanding of China through ongoing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and by close relationships with partner nations in the region. For example, Brown said he had just gotten off the phone with leaders of the Singapore and Australian air forces, which he said are “relationships that matter. That’s a way the Air Force helps.”

As part of the push to “accelerate change,” Brown said the Air Force needs to make the right investments in future weapons systems, ones that can communicate and share data effectively, to be “light, lean, and agile.” Additionally, the service needs to think through how it can preposition capabilities across the vast Pacific to be ready if needed.

“We don’t want to get in a position where we’ve got a bit of worry,” Brown said.