The US Air Force, the world’s most powerful Air Force in terms of aircraft strength and capabilities seems to have shifted its top priority from stealthy fighter jets to other aspects of the service.
The US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown revealed his top three modernization priorities for the service in an interview with Defense News.
He said that although he has flown these fighters, he isn’t “enamored” with them. “It’s really the capability that matters. And as we look at, you know, future conflicts, we may be fighting differently. I don’t know that for a fact. But when I came in, cyber wasn’t a thing. Now it is. Space was a benign environment. Now, not as much,” he said.
He placed his top priority on Nuclear Modernization.
America’s optimistic addition to their bomber fleet, the development of the futuristic B-21 Raider aircraft, is one such nuclear weapon which is ‘on-track’ despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Northrop Grumman is currently building the first test aircraft in Palmdale, California and the Air Force looks forward to procuring at least 100 B-21 Raider bombers.
Former US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, echoed a similar sentiment when he visited Northrop Grumman’s headquarters to get updates on the development of the Raider program.
“Nuclear modernization is a department priority – especially in our efforts to implement the National Defense Strategy. We have made great strides in ensuring the strength and reliability of our nation’s nuclear deterrent. The ability to strike any target, anywhere is the ultimate strategic deterrent and the B-21 Raider will bring that capability,” he said.
The second priority that Brown told Defense News is the Advance Battle Management System (ABMS). “I look at ABMS [as critical] because that’s going to help us enable our decision-making and how we contribute to Joint All-Domain Command and Control,” Brown said.
The Joint All-Domain Command and Control is an effort to connect distributed sensors, shooters and data from all commands in a simplified feed to enable a kill chain that initiated action within seconds- using AI.
“From my perspective, this is all about domain awareness,” said Northern Command chief, Gen. Glen Vanherk. He said he was most impressed by the ability to share domain awareness data from all domains among Combatant Commanders “in a common place where that information can then be utilized by decision-makers from a strategic level all the way to the tactical level.”
However, Congress isn’t impressed by the ABMS and shrunk the budget for it from $302 million to $208 million citing “poor justification” as the reason.
“That’s feedback to me, feedback to the Air Force that something is maybe being lost in the translation,” Brown told Defense News. “We’re doing this a bit different than we have done a traditional acquisition program. … And for us, for the Hill, it is a bit different. I think it’s an area that we, as an Air Force, do need to do a little bit better job of how we talk it up.”
Revealing his last priority, Brown said that he wants the process of acquiring technology to be expediated to cut costs that the service has to incur due to long procedural delays. “By the time [new technology] gets to the hands of the warfighter, the software that’s in it is a decade or two decades or 15 years old. How are we able to do things a bit faster in that regard?” Brown said in the interview with the website.
He suggested employing digital engineering as a solution to this issue, which is widely used in the commercial automotive industry. Under the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, the US Air Force has successfully flown the first prototype of the sixth-generation fighter using digital engineering.