Gen. Charles Q. Brown spoke with reporters at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando last week, just days before officially being tapped to be the next Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Brown remains commander of Pacific Air Forces until he is confirmed and relieves Gen. David Goldfein, who is expected to retire early this summer.
The wide-ranging interview touched on Joint All-Domain Command and Control, logistics while under attack, the challenges facing U.S. forces in the vast Indo-Pacific region, and standing up the Space Force. Here’s what he had to say on nine pressing topics he’ll have to deal with as Chief of Staff:
What role might the Advanced Battle Management System play in the Pacific?
I’ve actually spent a lot of time talking to Preston Dunlap, and I put a marker down for the third [experiment]. There’s one upcoming in April, and I want No. 3 to be in the Indo-Pacific. Part of that is how do we want to be able to look at the various platforms that we would connect, not just for PACAF/United States Air Force, but I also want to look at the capabilities that are being provided by our joint partners, and in some aspect the partner nations. We can connect a lot of different things, but what are the right things you want to connect to actually get us down the appropriate path with the Advanced Battle Management System?
The other aspect is how we are actually able to use the various clouds. For those that have traveled in our region, it’s pretty big, and having just one repository, one cloud, that operates out of Hawaii, and not multiple clouds at the forward edge, I gotta think about how we do that. How do we push enough information out, so if those clouds are disconnected, we can still connect and operate?
I’m more about the data and protecting the data than I am about having networks. I mean, all of us, for the most part, do our banking, through commercial means, and if I trust people with my money, I’ll be able to trust them somewhat with some of my secrets as well. So, we have the capability to do this, we collectively have to figure out how best to do it to protect the information appropriately and how you tag the data so you can have multi-level security.
What are your thoughts on bringing partner nations into the ABMS and Joint All-Domain Command and Control [JADC2] experiments, and what are the biggest challenges with that?
Challenges? Us. And what I mean by that is we’ve got to think about this from the allies and partners [perspective]. Sometimes we say allies and partners, but we don’t really fully think through allies and partners. I think I do, because I live it every day, but those who are actually doing it aren’t living with allies and partners in their headquarters on a day-to-day basis, so they think about it, but they don’t think about it. And so how do we actually ensure, as we’re laying in the groundwork, that from the very start we’re going to connect allies and partners.
The key aspect for allies and partners is how we share information. That’s the currency of trust. If I can’t share certain bits of information with you, then they’re not going to come in halfway through and go, ‘Okay, now we’re in,’ so we’ve got to be thinking about how we do this.
What are your thoughts on the idea of “logistics under attack,” which is included in the fiscal 2021 budget request?
I haven’t really dug in to figure out exactly the logistics under attack specifics, but I what I do think about, which is kind of tied to this is, ‘What are we buying to help support logistics?’ What I mean by that is, we have to purchase things a little bit differently. It may be a little more expensive at the start, but it may be cheaper in the long run. We talk about doing conditions-based maintenance, for example. It’s kind of hard to do that unless you have the parts, you can’t change your part ahead of time unless you actually have the parts in the system. How we balance between acquisition and sustainment going forward, I think, will be another key aspect that would be able to do some of the logistics under attack, because you’ve got the capability out there somewhat forward deployed, so you can actually be a bit more responsive when you’re under attack versus having to bring it all the way back.
The other thing I would add is with all the data we collected, how we use that data to be able to better forecast some of the requirements so we’re able to buy ahead and then push that capability logistically out to the forward edge based on models that we have and then you can adjust as you go.
Can you talk about the work you are doing with 16th Air Force, and can you offer any specific examples on the cybersecurity threat?
I’m always concerned that the ability to stay connected would be how much of that we do to ourselves versus how much our adversary might be able to do to us, and so we have to have a good understanding of how our networks are set up and protected.
The part with the 16th Air Force is more a discussion on information operations, and how we do information operations because when you start talking about great power competition, there’s certain things we can do that is hard power, but there’s also soft power-type things and warping of the information space. This is a part where 16th Air Force is starting to take on some of those responsibilities, and I think as we look at the cyber domain we can use it as a way to help get information or push information, or information operations.
Can you provide an example to help illustrate the kind of information operations you are talking about here?
If we stick with 16th AF, we are doing quite a bit. We’re starting some work with Special Operations Command- Pacific. Some of it’s based on understanding some of the processes of how we are able to pull information together and be more proactive than reactive, and part of that is understanding the information environment and how our adversary thinks because what we do against Russia, versus what we do against the PRC [Peoples’ Republic of China] is different. Part of this is related to doing a mission analysis to help us understand our adversary. That’s an area that we’re spending time working with SOC-PAC, to have a deeper understanding.
Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Holmes said his command is trying to figure out what a fighter might look like in 2030, i.e. will it be a traditional aircraft like we have today or a family of systems like ABMS. He said what works for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, won’t necessarily work for PACAF. What do you think you will need in that regard?
I think it applies to both, to be honest with you, but you do have to have a family systems. And just based on the size of our AOR, for one, and then the difference in the adversaries, and the numbers that we’re going to be up against, the family of systems actually will help us provide some level of advantage.
This kind of goes into the whole JADC2 aspect of if you’re looking for a single-point solution, it’s got to be a fighter. Well, it’s the fighter, but it’s also the information that comes off that fighter, it’s the information the fighter gets from other platforms, whether it’s a bomber, whether it’s an ISR platform, or if you have a tanker that’s got a node on it and it’s pushing information, or in space. How all that comes together will be important to support either a fighter of the future or whatever capability we have whether it’s delivered by a fighter, bomber, land-based, maritime-based capability.
With the vast distances and anti-access, area-denial capabilities, as well as the weapons that can reach through that, do you have what you need?
I do and I think there’s a combination of things. When you start talking multi-domain operations and JADC2, we can’t be a one-trick pony with high-end expensive weapons. I think there’s things we’ve got to take a look at. This is where some of the non-kinetic capabilities come in to play, and understanding the vulnerabilities of our adversary so that we can actually leverage and take advantage of those capabilities.
There’s also deception, which is an area I talk a fair amount about. It’s really, ‘How do we create extra fog and friction for an adversary that will give us a bit of an advantage.’ For one, so you can still compete with the Law of Armed Conflict in accordance with the National Defense Strategy and never really get to conflict, but if you do get into conflict, you have a bit of an advantage because you are causing problems.
The other aspect I take a look at is if you have these high-end, long-range weapons, you’ve got to have the right ISR capability with the right latency so that when you actually do fight, the target you’re shooting at is still there, or you have a good understanding of the current environment. This is where space comes in, because it now gives you opportunity to see deeper than you might see with the traditional big wing ISR.
Nobody is a bigger consumer than you are of space in a theater? How has the stand up of the Space Force changed how things work? It was seamless, and now we have, by definition, created not just a seam, but multiple seams among the services.
I don’t know if I would describe it as seamless because even when space was inside of the U.S. Air Force, there was a whole level of classification; there’s a lot of space stuff you just could not talk about. There were things I wasn’t even read in to at this level, and so this dialogue actually drove a conversation where some of the walls were coming down. We’re able to talk more about space and figure out how to integrate space more into how we do business, and so I would say maybe there’s a bit more transparency on space. Because of that, you can integrate it more. So I don’t see it as a seam. I think it actually provides more focus on the capability and how we might use the capability in the future, and it increases the dialogue.
Do you think it also works on the flip side? Will the Space Force, perhaps, be more conscious of what you need? Will it change that conversation also?
I think it will. It does go both ways, you know, to understand what we need, and then also what they can do to help us, or how you prioritize the capability, particularly if you get into a conflict. We’re having deeper conversations within PACAF about what’s out there, but now folks are asking deeper questions because you’re able to talk about it more. I think it’s actually helping all our space professionals because they’re getting more visibility and folks are coming to them asking more questions, including them in some of the planning more, and so I really don’t see it as a seam. I actually see more dialogue.
Editor’s note: This discussion was edited for clarity and brevity.