The Air Force is committed to a future where each of its systems, platforms and assets are fully connected and able to perform in multi-domain operations. However, authorizers and appropriators on Capitol Hill still don’t have a great idea of how that actually translates into programs and funding, an issue that needs to be addressed, two leaders of the multi-domain operation charge acknowledged Aug. 7.

As plans continue to develop the service’s next-generation air dominance (NGAD) vision and flesh out abstract concepts such as advanced battle management and multi-domain command-and-control, “there is some scar tissue” on the Hill for such projects stemming from failed concepts such as the Army’s Future Combat Systems, said Maj. Gen. David Krumm, director of global power programs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.

Concept of a future fighter aircraft for the Air Force by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Speaking at an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute event in Arlington, Va., Krumm said the Air Force knows “that networked systems are the way of the future,” and the focus will be on developing new technologies that can both update legacy systems to better connect, share with and learn from other platforms, and quickly designing and building new assets more quickly than the service has historically.

But the service needs to better engage lawmakers, he added. “We know the future, [and] we have got to do a really good job of articulating to Congress what that really means.”

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cut over $500 million from the service’s funding request for next-generation air dominance (NGAD) research and development, from an original $1 billion request. President Trump threatened to veto the final version of the NDAA if it included such a cut to the program, as well as other defense priorities (Defense Daily, July 10).

Maj. Gen. Michael Fantini, director of the relatively new Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) office and deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, said he envisions a number of cross-functional teams being stood up within AFWIC to tackle the elements of next-generation air dominance.

“What we see in the future is this cross-functional team having leadership that goes to the Hill and explains exactly what we mean,” by NGAD, he said.

Fantini added that the current plan is to set up 10 cross-functional teams focused on next-generation air dominance. Inspiration came from the Army’s decision to stand up such groups to focus on the service’s six areas of modernization, he added. The goal would be for each team to have access to a 4-star level or undersecretary-level office who can provide “top cover” or provide constructive feedback on projects early on in the process, he noted.

Krumm and Fantini declined to provide specifics on which platforms or assets would be included in the future NGAD “family of systems,” or which specific modernization areas could see a brand new platform as opposed to upgraded legacy systems.

“You can just look at current capabilities” for what might be included in NGAD, Fantini said. Krumm added, “we would be negligent as airmen if we weren’t looking at everything.”