Embracing the “Multi-Domain” Approach

The Air Force’s recent headquarters reorganization reflects a shift in thinking about how USAF will develop and field future capabilities, said Air Staff strategic plans boss Lt. Gen. James Holmes during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., March 26. Past programs often led to “exquisite requirements,” which led to 20- to 30-year development programs, and often struggled to keep up with evolving technologies even as potential adversaries close the capability gap around the world. If repeated, this approach could lead to “jumping off a bridge into an F-X [analysis of alternatives] that costs $250 million an airplane to get all the capability you think you need 20 years in the future,” he said. “Multi-domain” capability planning helps solve this, he said. Aircraft development has changed drastically in the 21st Century, he noted as an example, and today “the cost in our programs has moved from the touch labor of building an airplane over into the software development of an airplane that has eight million lines of code in it.” In this environment, 20-plus-year development cycles won’t work, and USAF needs to shift how it works with industry to come up with better solutions in old missions, such as air superiority. One approach, said Holmes, is to embrace more open architecture tools, and separate the development of weapons, sensors, and platforms “so we can upgrade one without upgrading the other.”