There is no denying that future warfare across domains will be highly contested with adversaries at the heels of the U.S. trying to seek dominance. Recognizing this reality, military leaders are calling for collaboration with industry and academia, standing up its own organizations to enable speed and innovation. The Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) is one example of this effort.
When AFWIC was established, General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) noted that AFWIC was intended to become “the lead for integrating and designing the blueprint of a future Air Force.” That required AFWIC to create Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) that looked across the service to identify where to prioritize investments that would create the foundation of a Joint Force that could operate across multiple domains in even the toughest scenarios.
Britt “Mega” Hurst, former USAF Colonel, 39th Air Base Wing commander, and lead for the AFWIC Air Superiority and Global Precision Attack Functional Integration Teams and the Insiders CFT, sat down with Modern Integrated Warfare to discuss the importance of designing a blueprint and building a multi-domain force to win future battles.
“One of the driving factors of AFWIC was to change the mindset of buying the next-generation platform or system for today’s fight and making a revolutionary leap to what we may need to innovate for the future fight,” Hurst explained. This requires a change from what Hurst pointed out as the military’s risk adverse mindset. Traditionally, each system or platform purchased would be incrementally updated. But to stay ahead of adversaries that are increasing in sophistication and technological advancement, incremental changes will not create the future force needed.
One example Hurst explained was the use of unmanned aircraft. “We struggled for many years to accept unmanned aircraft into the force. Now we use them 24/7/365 and that created more efficiencies for pilots and system operators to execute on a mission.” One of the CFTs Hurst worked with not only was examining the role of unmanned aircraft but looking at runway independent UAVs that could be launched if the runway was destroyed or under attack.
While innovation is at the core of AWFIC, there was also a requirement to look across the USAF and determine where to make investments to support the innovation. Often, making these recommendations didn’t come without challenges, as each command had priorities for fighting today’s and even tomorrow’s fight. “It was understandable,” Hurst commented. However, AFWIC was tasked to focus on the future fight that was 10-15 years down the line. In many cases, that also required a close look at systems that may need to be retired, in order to acquire the technologies that would support the future fight, like Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and Advanced Battle Management Systems (ABMS).
While AFWIC was stood up nearly two and a half years ago, AFWIC continues to evolve and will merge under the Air Force’s newly-renamed Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration, and Requirements. This, of course, begs the question of how to ensure that innovation continues?
There are two driving factors to ensure that this innovation continues now that AFWIC has evolved. The first, according to Hurst, is the previous Deputy Director of AWFIC then-Brig Gen Clinton Hinote. “He is easily the best strategist in the USAF, I’ve personally dealt with,” Hurst said. “He is solely focused on winning the future fight.” Lt. Gen. Hinote also was recently promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration, and Requirements for USAF. The second driving force is the appointment of Charles Brown, a four-star General and the 22nd Chief of Staff of the USAF. “Gen. Brown has always been an innovative forward thinker and I believe he will go a long way in institutionalizing that thinking for the USAF with the future fight in mind,” Hurst shared.
Now that Hurst is on the other side of defense, working in the industry at Collins Aerospace, he sees the importance of demonstrating advanced technologies and the possibilities of what can be implemented to support total force, multi-domain operational concepts. “The testing that Dr. Will Roper [Air Force’s Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics] is conducting for JADC2 and ABMS is a great example of understanding the art of the possible,” Hurst said. Similarly, the use of other transaction authorities (OTAs) and Industry Days gives the USAF visibility into capabilities from smaller and innovative technology companies outside of the major prime defense contractors.
“Keeping an eye on innovation, and staying open-minded about the possibilities for the future will be key to the future multi-domain fight,” Hurst concluded.