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This year, as the US Air Force (USAF) celebrates its 70th birthday, I think of the remarkable history we share with our NATO partners. From the beginning of the Cold War, we’ve forged our defence alliance into the strongest and most versatile on earth. It has shaped my career, with duty assignments in Germany and Italy as well as a combat tour during NATO’s Kosovo air campaign. In fact, I spent much of my life in European assignments and even met my wife, Dawn, in Germany while we were in high school. Beyond the deeply personal connections, the alliance has also shouldered my nation’s defence, with the deployment of NATO AWACs to the United States in the fall of 2001, shortly after the world-altering terrorist attacks on America.

In my first year as Chief of Staff, my respect for our history and shared goals has only grown. In today’s world, air forces are often on the leading edge as we fight shadowy terrorists and their entrenched networks across borders and cultures. Airpower has been critical, from reconnaissance to tanking to strike missions -- and NATO has been there.

As the past foreshadows the future, I look forward to 2019, when NATO will also turn 70. It’s important we celebrate our history and the value the alliance continues to play today. But we must also look ahead and prepare for fundamental changes in how we will need to fight and deter adversaries.

I see the future of warfare as defined by five attributes: It will be transregional, with conflicts increasingly unconstrained by borders. It will be multi-domain and multi-component, a mix of space, cyber and conventional power. It will be multi-national and coalition-based. It will require that likeminded nations work together seamlessly. And, finally, it will be fast. Much faster than today, requiring agility and adaptation. These attributes will demand more of the NATO alliance and test the capability of our international partners if we are to prevail in this challenging new environment.

That is our future. Potential adversaries have invested heavily in technologies to deny us air and space superiority. Distributed and networked threats will soon change the operational tempo of war. Already today, threats span the globe and pressure us in multiple domains, particularly cyber.

In response, we must also shift to create a multi-dimensional offense that can overwhelm enemy defences before they can adjust. This will demand new capabilities, but just as important it will demand innovative leadership. We must look at how we train leaders and develop their skills to operate across domains, often at breakneck speed.
I welcome these challenges. Our alliance remains as vital as ever, tested in combat and adept at responding to evolving threats in both governed and ungoverned spaces. Today’s missions are a sign of NATO’s maturity and commitment to our collective defence, as its founders envisioned. With hard work and your close partnership, I am confident we will be ready for tomorrow’s missions.

To my fellow air chiefs, I say, let’s move out.

 

Gen. David L. Goldfein is Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. (Photo: USAF)

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