NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- “To generate combat power from a number of locations to create dilemmas for an adversary...I just need a runway, a ramp, a weapons trailer, a fuel bladder, and a pallet of [meals, ready to eat],” said Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., Pacific Air Forces commander. “That’s maybe a little bit bold, but the point is, we’ve got to be light, lean and agile.”
Brown’s comments were the central theme for a series of engagements throughout the three-day Air Force Association Air Space and Cyber Conference held here Sept. 16-18. In addition to engaging with Airmen, members of industry and media, he participated in panels focused on “Maritime Strike,” and “Forward Power Projection in the 21st Century.”
“I’m feeling more and more heartened by the way industry is responding, the way the service is moving and some of the discussions we’re having within our Air Force,” Brown said, “…how we’re looking at multi-domain command and control, being light, lean, and agile combat employment. We’re moving the ball forward, and we can’t stop.”
In a complex world where attention can shift across the globe in a moment’s notice, Brown’s engagements focused on emphasizing the importance of the region.
“I remind folks as I look at the Department of Defense Indo-Pacific Strategy report that came out in June, that the Indo-Pacific is the priority theater… to have folks understand how important it is, particularly in the long-term,” he said.
Four of the five problem sets outlined in the National Defense Strategy are in the Indo-Pacific Command Area of Responsibility (AOR), from China, Russia, North Korea, violent extremists, and one additional that PACAF keenly watches, natural disasters.
Brown supports the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific through three lines of effort in his command’s strategy -- strengthening allies and partners, increasing lethality and interoperability through our exercise program, and operational concepts for great power competition.
As such, Brown has traveled to 12 different countries in his 14 months on the job…as far north as Mongolia, as far south as the south pole, and as far west as India. In those travels, he’s met with 17 of the 20 air chiefs in the region, and maintains constant dialogues with all of them.
His engagements and the more than 54 exercises throughout the region, compliment other foundational relationship-building events like “Airman-to-Airman Talks” (A2AT).
“Our actions officers and senior leadership go out to different countries and sit down and talk to them about a five-year plan of how we can work together,” Brown said.
PACAF currently participates in A2AT with 11 countries. This year marked a first for Mongolia, and the most recent A2AT is currently taking place in Vietnam with the Vietnam People’s Air Force, where Brown and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein just visited in August.
“Also, in December, we’ll host a Pacific Air Chief Symposium. We’ve invited 22 air chiefs to attend,” he said, reflecting on the anticipated growth from the event in 2017, where representatives from 18 air forces came together for discussions at the command headquarters on Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam, Hawaii. The number includes some countries from outside the AOR who have great partnerships and interest in the region.
Goldfein, who has also been invited to attend, spoke a day earlier at the conference about the characteristics needed of the service to meet the demands outlined by the NDS -- connect the joint force, dominate space, generate combat power and move to win.
“All are very applicable to me in the Pacific in how we operate and enhance the capabilities of our Airmen,” Brown said, adding that, “move to win” speaks directly to the PACAF operating concept of Agile Combat Employment, or ACE.
In the vast expanse of the AOR, spreading out Airmen and aircraft comes with obvious logistical challenges, forcing the command to look at a number of solutions.
“Part of it is technology and equipment, but it’s also the mindset of how we do things. Being able to do forward refueling points…we’ve done it with a number of our platforms and our partners,” he said, referencing a series of exercises, to include an exercise in April named Resilient Typhoon.
The exercise took Airmen and aircraft concentrated at one place—Andersen Air Force Base, Guam—who then dispersed, recovered and rapidly resumed operations at airports and airfields in Tinian, Saipan, The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Palau.
Allies and partners have also participated in various exercises, to include the Royal Australian Air Force and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The interoperability gained by integrating with allies and partners is critical in addressing many of the challenges in the region, particularly logistics and sustainment.
For example, earlier this year, a RAAF KC-30 tanker conducted air-to-air refueling with a U.S. Air Force F-22, a first for the region during a combined exercise. And the RAAF and U.S. Air Force also recently implemented a C-17 maintenance-sharing arrangement, allowing Airmen from either nation to perform full, interoperable cross-maintenance on either nation’s C-17s.
With very key partners also operating F-35s in the region, and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, about to receive their first in April 2020, opportunities for additional efficiencies may be explored in maintenance, spare parts and sustainment.
Brown also stressed the importance of multifunctional Airmen in being more agile, and not being afraid to break paradigms and have leaders that are empowered to take risk.
“What I get frustrated by is the various restrictions we put on ourselves because we don’t trust ourselves,” he said. “We can’t talk about innovation if we’re afraid we’re going to fail…in order to be successful in conflict, we’ve got to do this day-to-day as well, we have to let the commanders and leaders own risk.”
Today, conversations are happening throughout the Air Force about how to do just that, to better articulate commanders’ intent, discuss conditions based authorities, to get after ACE, to be light and lean.
Brown is championing an effort to decipher “what are we all doing that we can all agree on… let’s codify it and get past the experiment. And the areas we disagree on, let’s work through it and figure out what’s the path forward to codify within our tactics, techniques and procedures, our technical orders, and our Air Force Instructions so that we as an Air Force can organize train and equipment to be light, lean and agile.”
Another challenge presented by agility, air base defense. For Brown, some of this requires a discussion regarding roles and responsibilities across the joint force, some of this is focused on technology, and maybe, more importantly, a lot of it is about a shift in mindset.
“I’ve got to defend the fence line all the way up to hypersonics. So I have to have security forces that are doing the fence line, and I need counter-small UAS (unmanned aerial systems), defense against cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, hypersonics,” said Brown. “I’d like to keep it simple, maybe high-powered microwave or other systems that don’t need a lot of lift. Our mindset has to change in some of this as we go forward.”
Much of that mindset is focused on ensuring the service can properly articulate risk.
“There will be risk involved in order to actually ensure we can generate combat power…not every base is going to have the same level of protection,” he said. “We really have to think different about how we execute. If we think how we have in the past, what we’ll do is go… ‘it’s too expensive… too hard to do,’ and when the time comes we’ll be behind.”
Today, Brown sees progress in the partnerships – from industry, to joint teammates, to allies and partners throughout the region.
“Our industry partners have heard us loud and clear…[multi-domain command and control], open mission systems being able to connect different sensors and moving the data around so we can have these common operational picture so we can get information from a sensor to a shooter…We’re moving down the right path together.”
From low-cost attritable aircraft, to prepositioning capability, fuel, weapons, Brown’s focus is on looking at everything differently than has been done in the past, to include smaller packages spread throughout the region to cut down on the lift required, and using space capabilities.
“I don’t want to be constrained by anything… be innovative, do spiral development, use them, test them, bring them out… get it out to the field faster.”
It’s no surprise that he fully embraces Dr. Will Roper’s concept of “disruptive innovation.” Roper, the Air Force Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, presented at the conference about success and continued efforts in acquisition reform to compete.
“We’ve got to make it challenging for our adversary to decrease their confidence in wanting to go to conflict,” Brown said. “I compare this to an algebra equation…if I keep changing X, you can never solve the equation.”