Brown: Doctrine Changes Helped USAF Respond to Iran’s Strikes on Israel

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. still “believes” in his mantra of “Accelerate Change or Lose”—and indicated the doctrinal changes it produced when he was Air Force Chief of Staff played a role in the service’s recent response to Iran’s aerial assault on Israel, he said May 7. 

Speaking at the Ash Carter Exchange conference in Washington D.C., Brown said he recently spoke with U.S. Airmen who helped respond to Iran’s attack on April 13. U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons shot down dozens of Iranian drones as they were heading toward targets in Israel. While Iran launched more than 100 ballistic missiles, 30 land-attack cruise missiles, and 150 drones, U.S., Israel, and coalition forces intercepted “99 percent” of them, U.S. and Israeli officials have said.

“Just amazing work by a very talented group of young people and older people as well,” Brown said. 

Brown said during his talk with the Airmen, “We talked about mission command and how they used parts of our doctrine that we changed back in April of 2021.” 

Early on in his tenure as CSAF, Brown released Air Force Doctrine Publication 1, or AFDP-1, distilling two volumes of airpower doctrine down to 20 pages. As part of that publication, the Air Force said mission command “empowers subordinate decision-making for flexibility, initiative, and responsiveness in the accomplishment of commander’s intent.” 

It was an idea Brown repeatedly returned during his time as Chief, imploring Airmen to take action without formal approval from commanders, instead acting based on what they believed their commanders’ intent to be. In 2023, the service released another Air Force doctrine publication devoted entirely to the subject, dubbed AFDP 1-1.  

“While this publication will help build a common understanding of mission command across the force, the culture of mission command doesn’t happen just because it is written in our doctrine,” Brown wrote at the time. “I believe building confidence in mission command, for both leaders and Airmen, requires daily execution in simple scenarios ahead of a complex challenge in conflict.” 

By trying to accelerate the process of change then, Brown added May 7, he hoped he had “broke the inertia to get the momentum going and move things forward.” Helping that push is new CSAF Gen. David W. Allvin, who served as Brown’s vice chief, whose manta is to “follow through.”

“There’s some things we moved forward, and I’m very fortunate but the person who succeeded me was my Vice Chief of Staff,” Brown said. 

Iran’s attack on Israel “puts the region a little bit more on edge,” Brown said, and the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza continues to create tension across the Middle East. But the situation has improved for U.S. forces that faced an onslaught of dozens of strikes from Iranian-backed militias. 

“We’ve been able to defend ourselves, we’ve been able to strike at a time a place of our choosing,” Brown said. “I think we sent back in February a pretty strong message. It’s been 90 days since the last time our forces have been attacked. We take force protection very seriously.” 

The response in February included dozens of airstrikes against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and Iranian-aligned groups in Iraq and Syria in retaliation after a drone strike killed three American service members in Jordan.