October 05, 2021

The Future Is Now

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. began his tenure as the service’s top officer with an order and a warning: Accelerate change—or lose (ACOL).

One year later, Brown sees a modicum of progress and a tightening timeline to achieve that imperative. Airmen and commanders must break from the status quo, as must lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have been unwilling to let the Air Force retire older aircraft. 

“I think FY23 is the year. If we, as a department and as an Air Force, don’t make a big shift in ’23, then I’m concerned,” Brown said in an interview. “That’s the time we’ve got to make a shift.”

The Air Force faces mounting bills for a host of new aircraft: KC-46 tankers, F-35A, and F-15EX fighters, T-7A trainers, the B-21 bomber, the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) aircraft, and an all-new nuclear ballistic missile, all at once. Brown needs bill payers and he and others are looking to jettison aircraft that are costly to maintain and that deliver less than optimum utility. Lawmakers, however, are hesitant.

“You hear the discussion,” Brown says, eyes darting between his interviewers. “China’s a pacing threat … our adversaries are moving at a pace, and we’ve got to make sure we’re moving as well. That’s why I wrote ‘Accelerate Change or Lose.’ That’s why I’m doing all this engagement. Because if you don’t fully appreciate what the future is going to look like—or what the future threat [is], or where our adversaries are going—it’s hard to make that shift. You don’t want to wait until you have a crisis moment to go, ‘God, I wish we had done something.’ ”