Brown Stresses the ‘Value of Airpower,’ China and Russia Threats in CJCS Confirmation Hearing

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. touted the importance of airpower at key points in his confirmation hearing to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on July 11, highlighting its impact when asked by lawmakers about competition with China and Russia.

Over the course of more than two hours before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Brown avoided any major missteps and seemingly garnered bipartisan support for his nomination to become the nation’s top-ranked military officer, as senators focused heavily on his positions on the U.S. military’s shift towards China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Drawing on lessons learned from both situations, Brown said that Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown what happens when one side does not have air superiority. Attacks on logistics and command hubs in Ukraine have also highlighted that U.S. and allied military hubs are highly concentrated in a small number of locations in Europe. Meanwhile, as the Air Force has developed its plans to be able to fight in the Pacific, Brown noted the role critical role aircraft will play in traversing the vast distances required and the logistical challenges the ocean poses.

Russia and Ukraine

In Ukraine, Brown highlighted the strong ground-based air defenses on both sides of the conflict, which has largely forced fixed-wing aircraft away from the front lines. Instead, Russia has relied on drones and long-range missiles. Ukraine, now aided by British Storm Shadows long-range cruise missiles and American JDAM extended-range guided bombs, now has some air-launch standoff strike capabilities of its own.

“Just from my own perspective as an Airman, the value of airpower and having watched what either side has been able to do or not do, but the value of air defense and integrated air defense and how that’s been helpful to the Ukrainians in defense of their nation,” Brown said.

Russia has sought to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses, leading the U.S. and other allies to repeatedly restock Ukraine’s air defense interceptors and provide highly capable systems such as Patriot batteries and NASAMS, the same platform used to protect Washington, D.C. from missiles.

In advance policy questions provided to the committee, Brown wrote that the U.S. and its allies need to improve their own missile defense systems in the region to prevent mass attacks in a conflict.

“First, the DOD has sufficient air and missile defense capability in” the U.S. European Command area of responsibility, Brown wrote. “However, in my view, the capacity is lacking in that it is not currently deployed in sufficient numbers to defend EUCOM’s critical infrastructure against cruise missile attacks in large salvos.”

China and Taiwan

Meanwhile, Brown noted two recent Air Force exercises that have shown the value—and the challenges to—logistics in the Pacific: the ongoing Mobility Guardian exercise and CORONA South, a logistical senior leader tabletop exercise held in June.

“You cannot wait until the crisis occurs to be able to deploy capability,” Brown told the committee. “You have to pre-position capability and have that in place. You have to work with allies and partners to have access to locations so you can put the capability into place. And that’s an area that we are focused on not only as an Air Force, but I’d also say as a joint force.”

The Indo-Pacific in particular presents significant hurdles.

“Because of those differences in geography and infrastructure, we cannot use the same approach in both theaters,” Brown said. “You look at the geography of Europe, where you have large landmass borders. You also have infrastructure, with roads, railroads, airfields that are all close together. In the Indo-Pacific, you don’t necessarily have that. What you have is more maritime space, islands, but you do have airfields, and so it’ll be more challenging. And, oh, by the way, the size of the region is much larger than it is in Europe.”

In his advance policy questions, Brown also wrote that China and Russia, while presenting their own unique challenges to the U.S., were still linked in their desire to upend the Western-led international order after declaring a “no limits” partnership in February 2022.

“Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has observed no discernible change in Beijing and Moscow’s strategic partnership even as the international community has united to impose costs on Russia,” Brown wrote. “While China does not openly criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Beijing does openly blame NATO and supports the Russian war effort through economic, diplomatic, public support, and non-lethal military means. We must reinforce the norm against territorial conquest, as a key element of preserving global stability.”

Diversity and Personnel Issues

During the hearing, Brown faced some resistance from Republican lawmakers on the Pentagon’s diversity initiatives and cultural issues, arguing they were a distraction from fielding the most capable fighting force.

Brown said diversity was a strength of the U.S. military and the Pentagon’s “goal is to tap into all the talent across our nation.”

“I’ll just tell you from my own career when I came in and flying F-16s, I didn’t want to be the best African-American F-16 pilot, I wanted to be the best F-16 pilot,” Brown said. “That’s the aspect all of our service members look for. They want a fair opportunity, but they also want to be rewarded for their performance.”

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who has placed a hold on general and flag officer nominations to protest the Pentagon’s new policy to pay for travel to receive reproductive health care such as abortions and in-vitro fertilization, focused most of his questioning of Brown on concerns about the size of the Joint Staff and said he supported Brown’s confirmation. But several Democratic lawmakers used the hearing to criticize Tuberville, whose hold is preventing hundreds of senior military leaders from being speedily confirmed.

Brown, for his part, said he was “nonpartisan and nonpolitical” and would “advocate that our civilians—civilian leadership—does not bring us into political situations.”

“I’d set that same expectation throughout the force,” he added.

But Brown did say holding up confirmations on officers was detrimental to the military.

“In addition to the senior officers, there’s a whole chain of events that goes down to our junior officers,” Brown said. “That has an impact.”

Service members families would also face hardships, Brown said.

“Whether it’s school, whether it’s employment, whether it’s the fact that they already sold their home because they thought they were going to move and are now living in temporary quarters, that creates a challenge,” Brown said. “We will lose talent. The spouse network is alive and well, and the spouses will compare notes.”

Next Steps

Tuberville’s hold will also presumably prevent Brown from quickly being confirmed. He is slated to succeed Army Gen. Mark A. Milley as the president’s top military adviser when Milley’s term expires at the end of September. In the meantime, the SASC can advance the nomination and send it to the Senate floor, where Brown could come up for a roll call vote.

Brown was confirmed 98-0 by the Senate in 2020 after being nominated to lead the Air Force by former President Donald Trump. Brown would be the first Airman in 18 years to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

In their opening statements, SASC chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Ala.) noted that Brown would be coming into the role at a time of a fundamental shift in geopolitics.

“I expect General Brown will offer his most frank, unreserved military judgment both to the president and to Congress if confirmed,” Wicker said.

Addressing Brown, Reed said, “if confirmed, you will lead the Joint Force at a momentous time.”