Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s goal for fiscal year 2021 will be to convince stakeholders on Capitol Hill and in the defense industry that the service’s future is a networked architecture where access to data – not platforms – is the priority.

Speaking at a Jan. 27 event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C., Goldfein said he and his counterparts in the Joint Chiefs of Staff must successfully articulate a vision for Congress and contractors of “the importance of networks” and that “data is the currency of future warfare.”

“How do we communicate that in an environment where I don’t think … there’s going to be a single network lobbyist pounding on the doors of Congress, but there’s going to be plenty of platform lobbyists?” he said.

The Air Force will try to make that point clear in its fiscal year 2021 budget submission, where it has taken a hard look at its current portfolio to identify platforms that can’t sufficiently connect, share data or self-improve in way that will help warfighters win conflicts against peer adversaries, and push to reroute those platforms’ funding toward investments in data collection and dissemination and connectivity, he said. The systems the Air Force is looking to procure from now on must connect, be capable of sharing information and of learning, he added.

“That’s the narrative this year,” Goldfein said. “It’s not an easy narrative in the town that’s primarily focused on platforms.”

He acknowledged that the discussion is a tough sell to many traditional industry partners, particularly when it comes to sharing data. There has to be a compromise between the one extreme that industry firmly retains all data rights, and the other extreme that warfighters demand unfettered access and an open architecture that allows virtually free data-sharing, he said.

“We have to … find a way to have a mature dialogue about what is it that industry absolutely has to preserve – the coin of the realm – and what is it that I have got to have because if I don’t, I can’t manipulate it at the speed of relevance against the fight that I know I’m preparing for,” Goldfein said.

He added that the service’s push to invest more in systems that will contribute to joint service priorities such as joint all-domain command and control (JADC2) at the expense of current platforms was met with resistance from some combatant commanders. He said that he personally discussed the service’s plans to cut legacy aircraft in the next budget with those commanders to reassure them that the intent was to minimize near-term risk as much as possible and ensure that their concerns were heard.

“We didn’t get everything we put on the table,” he noted. “Some was walked back, but we got a lot of what we put on the table.”

While the service chief of staff declined to get into budget details ahead of the White House’s plan to submit the FY ’21 budget to Congress Feb. 10, he reiterated the Air Force’s plan to focus investment in four major categories: building out the service’s digital architecture, investing in space capabilities, generating combat power and ensuring access to logistics.

Goldfein originally shared last November that the service employed a “night court” process to find $30 billion in existing programs over the five-year Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) that could be redirected toward its most pressing capability needs in those four categories (Defense Daily, Nov. 6, 2019).

The services expect be jockeying for funding under a $740 billion topline in fiscal year 2021, as Congress voted for in the 2019 Bipartisan Budget Act, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy recently made separate cases for why their service needed a bigger share of the cut to meet the demands of the National Defense Strategy.

The Air Force chief declined to say whether his service deserved a larger portion, noting “Budget paranoia is a service core competency” at the CNAS event.

“I’m not going to jump into the debate,” he told reporters after the event. “I’ve been in the business too long to see [that] when you start going after each other, it rarely produces much value.

“I’m going to stay focused on joint warfighting, the National Defense Strategy and what I believe the Air Force’s contribution is to that, and then making sure that we make every dollar count that we’re given,” Goldfein continued.

He acknowledged that the Air Force could absolutely do more to address both its near-term risks to readiness and prepare for the future fight with additional funding.

“Do we need more resources than we have? Absolutely yes. Would I be offering the legacy capabilities to buy the future if I didn’t have to” in order to break even,” he said. “No, I wouldn’t be asking combatant commanders to take a real-time, near-term risk if we had the resources to do it.”