It’s All About the Network

The future of the Air Force is “going to be far more about networks” than any individual new capability, service Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said. The question he and the other joint chiefs are asking is, “How do you take all of the information that you collect and turn that into decision-quality information faster than any adversary can ever counter, and how to you create effects across domains to the point where you’ve got operational agility, and that combination of operational agility and decision speed produces a deterrent value that nobody can counter?” Goldfein, speaking Thursday at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C. laid out a vision of a networked joint force connected by a “common operating system” enabled by machine-human collaboration that would enable the military to “get away from the human analysis we’re doing today.”

Goldfein said the Air Force is experimenting with a new system called “Data to Decision” that, while not yet being used in theater, represents the future of joint warfare. Such a system would move the US military “beyond a platform-centric dialogue” to embrace the reality that “no system will fight by itself but as part of a network.” He offered the example of the F-35 as a “quarterback” of the joint fight. In Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, Nev., the “F-35 pilot is calling audibles in real time” by making use of its sensor and communications capabilities to collect data from other systems and lead the battle space decision-making, he said. Ultimately, the goal is to create a network of systems and capabilities fast enough and multi-layered enough to generate “redundancy and resiliency” that would enable the network to continue operating at full capacity even if part of the network is taken out by an adversary. Goldfein said the Air Force is well on its way to such a system, but that work remains to be done. “Today we’re faster than anyone else, but we’re too slow for the future,” he said.