The F-35 Lightning II will remain central to the Air Force’s fighter fleet for years to come, the service’s top officer said Friday, despite the mechanical troubles and cost overruns that have made the aircraft the most expensive in history.
“The F-35 is going to be the cornerstone of our fighter fleet and it will be for the foreseeable future,” Gen. Charles Q. Brown told reporters after visiting with troops at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
Though technical problems have resulted in the F-35 falling short on operational expectations, Brown said he expects those issues to be resolved.
Below is a full rush transcript of the press conference by Special Briefing via Telephone with General Charles Q. Brown U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff.
General Brown: It’s a pleasure to be with you today and all the other journalists who are on the line. Victory is only possible with preparation, and preparing together is critical. And so in the past week I have been here in Europe, and I’ve witnessed the impact of U.S. and allied airpower and the strength of our relationships. I met earlier this week with the French air and space force leadership, I attended the UK’s Global Air Chiefs’ Conference virtually, and visited with the United States airmen here in Germany. I was impressed at our allies’ and partners’ efforts to ensure our collective airpower remains a decisive capability for future combat operations. We share a common responsibility: to safeguard our collective security.
I will tell you that the global map security picture is changing. We are returning to long-term strategic competition that challenges international norms and institutions and threatens our collective security. And losing in strategic competition or a future conflict is not an option. I expect we’ll be contested everywhere, on every level, and in every domain. That’s why I published “Accelerate Change or Lose,” which explains why my Air Force must change, and change faster than before. We must work together with allies and partners to look closely at the capabilities we need now and into the future so that we can balance risk over time and design our Air Force to be ready to compete and deter and, if needed, win.
The U.S. Air Force provides our joint teammates, our allies, and our partners the assurance of air superiority, the advantage of global strike, and the agility of rapid global mobility. Additionally, the Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and command and control capabilities provide the ability to sense, make sense, and act. Our mission is to fly, fight, and win – airpower, anytime, anywhere. Not just sometime in some places, but anytime, anywhere. And our future force must be agile, resilient, and digitally connected to continue generating near-instantaneous effects anytime, anywhere, and we must do so with our allies and partners.
As I told you, I’m in Europe this week, and I’m actually at Spangdahlem Air Base today, and I’d like to take a moment to express my condolences to the German citizens that either lost their life or were impacted by the floods that occurred here just this past week.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today, and I look forward to your questions.
QUESTION: How confident are you that the F-35 will ever respond to the Air Force expectations? And what’s going to happen with the early blocks of those fighter aircraft?
General Brown: Well, I appreciate the question. And I’ll tell you I’m very confident that it will reach our expectations. And it’s the collaboration that we’re working with internal to the Air Force with our Joint Program Office and with our defense industry contractors that help us build and provide that combat capability by the F-35. The F-35 is the cornerstone of our fighter fleet, and it will be for the foreseeable future.
And so with that, the capability we have today, it does extremely well, but I’ve also got to think about the capability we require for the future as the threat evolves. And so what I see with the earlier blocks is the aspect of those capabilities. We’ll continue to upgrade the aircraft as we go forth and ensure we have the capabilities not only for what we need today but what I expect we’ll need for tomorrow as we look at the future.
QUESTION: Can you give a broad perspective on some of the components of an over-the-horizon, post-U.S. Afghan presence to go after al-Qaida as necessary? Just broadly, what will some of that over-the-horizon capability consist of?
General Brown: Well, Tony, thanks. Good to hear from you and thanks for the question. And really the aspect – this is one of the aspects that the Air Force, United States Air Force, arrived in cooperation with our joint teammates is our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. And that’s the aspect that I see that the Air Force is really able to provide that will help the United States Central Command and others to make the perfect decisions.
I’d also say, as a member of the Department of the Air Force, our U.S. Space Force also provides – helps to provide that capability and provide that information or information to our decision makers, whether it’s United States Central Command or our national leadership. So that’s kind of where I see our – the United States Air Force’s contributions and the rest of the joint team to how we look at violent extremist capability within Afghanistan.
Question: Can I ask you a quick F-35 follow-up given the first question? General Nahom this week – last week testified before a HASC panel, and he said it’s a good airplane and the crews love it very much, but unfortunately, we are paying for outstanding; we are not getting outstanding. What improvements do you need to see from Lockheed so that you’re starting to get outstanding given what you’re paying for?
General Brown: One of the things that we are looking at is our sustainment costs. And I will tell you, I have personal engagements with the CEO from Lockheed Martin. We’re also talking to Pratt & Whitney as well. And it’s how we work together and how we collaborate, because when I think about it, it’s not only the United States Air Force, it’s not only the Joint Program Office with our defense industry partners; it’s about our national security.
And we have to – we’re all in this together, and so the collaboration piece to me is important, and so that we are talking to each other, not past each other. And we’ve got good dialogue, and I think we’re making great process, and I appreciate the cooperation and collaboration with our industry partners as we work to make sure that the F-35 provides the capabilities that we require and continues to be the cornerstone of our fighter fleet.
QUESTION: How has ISIS expansion in Africa affected your planning for responding to potential threats there? Do you have the resources you need to meet the threats, especially in relation to the fight against ISIS or al-Shabaab?
General Brown: Well, one of the things that when you look at the United States Air Force and our capabilities, we work very closely in this case with the United States Africa Command led by General Steve Townsend to meet his requirements to go against violent extremists. And this is the aspect when I talk about air power anytime anywhere, it’s the combination of what we’re able to do with our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets as well as our strike capability as required by what General Townsend needs and his subordinate commanders.
And so from that aspect I feel fairly comfortable that we’re able to support his requirement, and we do have the flexibility as an air force to move that air power anytime, anywhere to support General Townsend but the other combatant commands around the world. And for that aspect, I think we – I feel pretty comfortable. And I’ve watched this and how we’ve been able to operate as an air force for a number of years in the defeat ISIS campaign not only in Africa, but from you own experience when I served in the Middle East as the Air Component Commander for United States Central Command.
Question: How a European or African partner will help with strategic competition with China and Russia in space? And also, you’ve probably seen that the HASC has criticized Space Force acquisition. How are those concerns being addressed?
General Brown: Well, I appreciate the question. I probably have to defer on the Space Force acquisition piece just because that’s General Raymond and the U.S. Space Force, and I don’t actually get involved in how he does his acquisitions, and I don’t want to speak for him.
But I will tell you from a broader standpoint, whether it’s space or other areas, it’s the dialogue we have with our allies and partners. And the aspect of two – I’ll give you two examples from this week. One, when I met with General Lavigne, who is the chief of the French Air and Space Force, I had a chance to talk to his leadership about their space capabilities and how they can work very closely with the United States and other partners.
And then at the Global Air Chiefs Conference, one of the panels was about space, and the Royal Air Force has stood up their – in the past four months stood up their space command, and actually, the commander of space command is a personal friend who I’ve worked with in the past. And so it’s the dialogue we have between our services, whether it’s space, whether it’s air power or other domains, that’s how we work together with allies and partners and really look at how we have some common interests, common capabilities, and then look at capabilities that may complement each other that may be different. And so to me, it’s the dialogue that we have with our partners that helps us determine how best to use our respective capabilities.
QUESTION: Recently, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called for an integrated form of deterrence designed for multi-domain operations and able to leverage ‘the right mix of technology, operational concepts, and capabilities. How do you see the role of the Air Force as part of the integrated deterrence framework, and how should the integrated deterrence be understood and what it means for allies?
General Brown: Thanks for the question. And when I look at integrated deterrence, you talked about the concepts, technology, and capabilities. The United States Air Force does use a fair amount of technology, but it’s those – it’s not just the technology itself. It’s the concepts we bring together with the technology that provides the capability, and the most important of all that is really our airmen. It’s the outstanding airmen we have. And that’s the chance I’ve had this past week to spend time at both Ramstein and Spangdahlem to look at how our airmen use those concepts, those capabilities, and that technology to bring all that together in concert with our allies and partners. And it’s – for us, it’s the complete package that provides that integrated deterrence as United States Air Force but, again, with our allies and partners.
Question: Yeah, General, with the types of multi-domain warfare that the U.S. is envisaging, ABMS, will this widen the gap between U.S. air from partner air forces? How will allies plug into your alternated networks, and where would the – where would a partner air force have – be able to put a red card in that kind of architecture?
General Brown: Part of when you look at the aspect of Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, it’s how we connect, but it’s really about data. It’s how we move data and how we move information to make decisions. And the aspect I look at is part of our dialogue internal to the United States Air Force but also as you look at joint all-domain and command-and-control, or combined joint all-domain command-and-control, is how we bring in our allies and partners.
And it’s the exercise and events we’ve done with our various demonstrations here in Europe with – at United States Air Forces in Europe to bring in our partners, but it’s also what we do as we start making decisions about how we use multi-level security and using technology to do that, to bring in the data from our partners and at the same time be able to push data and information out to our partners. It’s the aspect of being able, just like in our day-to-day life, being able to connect into a cloud and be able to pull out the data that you want or push out the data you want to our allies and partners.
So it’s important that we are in good dialogue with our partners so we do not leave them behind, because that’s not my intent. My intent is to make sure we, in everything we do, we think about our allies and partners. And I’ll just tell you again, from my personal experience the past ten-plus years, I’ve been working very closely with allies and partners as a general officer, and it’s something that’s in the forefront of many of my decisions and my dialogue with my staff to make sure we don’t forget that we got to make it compatible with our allies and partners. And we need to start, in some cases, with that in mind from the start to ensure we provide that capability.
Now, on the aspect of a red card, this is something we’re going to have to work through. It’s not just the technology aspect of this; it’s really our processes that we have to think about, and we have to think about them differently. Just like the aspect that – I think decisions will happen at a much higher rate of speed, because all of the information and how we’re able to use our technology. And this is something that was actually discussed at the Global Air Chiefs’ Conference that we might have to do these things differently, and it may be an algorithm that helps us be able to determine that. I don’t know that that’s the answer, but it’s something we’ve got to think about and we may have to do it differently than we do today.
Question: If possible, on your engagement with the Russians on deconfliction and such. I just wanted to know if the deconfliction line in Syria is still operational. We haven’t heard about it in a while, I think. And just, you know, the engagement with the Russians in general ?
General Brown: Sure. Well, I appreciate the question. And my information is dated and – because I’ve been actually focused on the Indo-Pacific for the past couple of years before I came to this job. As far as I know, I think the deconfliction line is still in operation, partly because both the United States and Russia are still operating in Syria and we – having had that line stand up when I was there as the air component commander from the very – I was there at the very beginning, it’s been a tool to help ensure deconfliction between our forces and it’s been an effective tool.
From a Russian engagement standpoint, that’s where – that’s been my experience, one of engagement. I haven’t had any broader engagement with the Russian forces or Russian leadership in the position I’ve held. So, again, thanks for the question.
QUESTION: What is the current status of the plan to station F-35As at Lakenheath Air Force Base in the UK? And if they’re going to replace the currently stationed F-15s, what will be the impact on the operational capabilities of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa given the obvious differences between the two types of aircraft?
General Brown: Well, right now we’re going through the – our basing process there at Lakenheath. We have a strategic base in process, and in that process we look at the – we do site surveys to look at what’s required as we make the transition from one platform to another. And so with that, we expect that the first F-35s should arrive here within the next – within the year. And when I look at capability, the F-35 is an outstanding multirole aircraft, and it’s a combination of bringing the F-35 on as we look at the F-15, and the F-15 has been a great platform as well – both the F-15C that does air superiority, the F-15E, which is [inaudible] multirole.
This is the beauty of airpower in the United States Air Force, is that we have a great mix of capabilities, and I don’t look at one replacing another or one comparing notes. It’s really how the complete set of capabilities all come together with the F-35 and the F-15s that we’ll continue to have at Lakenheath, in addition to the other capabilities that the United States Air Force brings, but also the capabilities that our allies and partners have in the region. And it’s the exercises and the opportunity to work together, I think, that will be important. And I think the F-35 will be a complement for the United States Air Force, but I’ll also tell you there’s a number of our partners here in Europe that have F-35s, and I just think that our relations will continue to deepen because of the F-35 capabilities we bring in but the F-35 capability that already exists here in the region.
Question: So last year there was that announcement about sending some forces out of Germany, and part of that involved moving F-16s from Spangdahlem to Italy and some other areas. I understand some of that has been put on hold or is getting a second look. Could you talk about how you see basing going in Europe in general going forward, and if you see some of those plans coming back around?
General Brown: Well, here’s what I’ll tell you, that the – without getting into specifics of various locations, one of the things that the department is doing is a global posture review to take a look at – completely down and across the Department of Defense, at the same time I’m looking at that aspect for the United States Air Force. And as I do that, we look at where we place our capabilities, whether it’s in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific or whether it’s in the Middle East and what we do back in the United States; at the same time, it’s the mix of our – when we look at our total forces and mix of capability between our active, guard, and reserve and having the right mix between our stateside locations and our overseas locations.
Question: I was just wondering what plans there were for USAFE. I mean, you mentioned – you’ve been asked about Germany and the UK. I mean, are there any – is there any clarity about plans for other places for – Aviano, for example?
General Brown: I’m not involved in the details of some of the global posture review and to be able to talk about specific bases. But as I said before, we are – we’re looking at our laydown at each of the combatant commands in the different regions of the world for not only the United States Air Force but also for the Joint Force as well.
Question: In your meetings with European space agencies, what military capabilities exist in space that are complementary to those of the Space Force?
General Brown: Well, we talked in broad terms of their capability, and it’s the same capabilities that we look at. It’s the – our ability to communicate. It’s ability to do reconnaissance – intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and that’s where many of our space capabilities come together. And then the last thing we – I would also highlight is we’re – space as a domain had been fully benign. And we talked about how we need to – the aspect of how we need to protect our capabilities and the capabilities of our allies and partners. And that’s an aspect that General Raymond spoke too as well. So I think from that perspective, that’s where I see a little of commonality from a military standpoint between the U.S. Space Force and our allies and partners with their space capability.
Question: The RAF has said this week at the Global Air Chiefs’ Conference that they intend to shift to go to mostly synthetic training, virtual mission rehearsal, maybe in a sort of 80-20 mix. Do you think this is achievable, feasible? Is it something that you see the USAF shifting to as well in the balance between live and virtual training?
General Brown: I don’t know that I would grade Air Chief Marshal Wigston’s approach, but I will tell you that we are all – have talked about the increase of synthetic capability because the technology can support it. And from that aspect, there are certain things that would – we may not be able to do in physical airspace with replicating threats, having the numbers of aircraft that come together, and so there is the aspect of synthetic capability and the repetition you can have that may speed up the learning curve.
At the same time, I think our air crew have to get airborne. And there’s an aspect of actually not only getting airborne, but it’s also what our – the aspect for our maintainers. And you can’t fix an airplane if it doesn’t fly and break, and understand that aspect. And so it’s a combination thereof. And we are already – we’ve already done some level of synthetic training. I anticipate the opportunity for that to increase in certain areas. I don’t know that I – right now I would tell you the percentage-wise, but it may depend on specific platforms that may have more synthetic than others.
And the last thing I would say is that by using synthetic, it does maybe save you some money in operating costs, but at the same time there’s a balance between that operating cost and the readiness of our air crew and those that support – the support functions that maintain our aircraft and our supply chain as well, to have a good understanding of how all that comes together. So synthetic training actually does have a role, I think maybe a growing role, but it’s really a balance between the synthetic and the actual live training that we will continue to work through. And I look forward to seeing how the RAF progresses and how we dialogue back and forth and what we learn from each other as we both take our respective approaches.
General Brown: I do. Thanks, Justin. I really appreciate the opportunity to spend time with all of you today, and I’ve also appreciated the hospitality I received in this particular week of travel into Europe and spend time with our French partners and meet virtually with our partners from the UK and other global air chiefs. But more importantly to me is then spending time with our airmen here that are serving and their families that are serving here in Europe. It’s a real pleasure to be here, and the aspect of – when I always think about what we do as a United States Air Force and our mission to fly, fight, and win – airpower, anytime, anywhere. And most definitely, it’s a pleasure to do airpower with our allies and partners. So thank you. Thank you, Justin, and thank you to all the rest that were with us today.