USAF Needs To Overhaul How It Works With Allies, Official Says

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., left, after flying with the German Air Force on a Eurofighter Typhoon on July 11.
Credit: German Luftwaffe

LONDON—The U.S. Air Force needs to overhaul how it works with allies and partners to build new aircraft and weapons systems while integrating personnel more closely, with the end goal of having a battle plan with allies involved by design at the outset, the service’s boss says.

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. is outlining his new approach, which he calls “Integrated by Design,” during the Global Air and Space Chiefs Conference and Royal International Air Tattoo here as European countries are increasing their own spending and reinvigorating their focus on defense amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. and its partners and allies need to focus on the end goal of operating together from the earliest possible stage, including when aircraft and weapons are being designed and personnel are being trained, Brown said. 

“There are things that are frustrating me, where we tend to alienate our allies and partners because we don’t think about how we integrate them from the very beginning,” Brown tells Aviation Week in an exclusive interview. “And so integrated by design is you need to start at the beginning with the end in mind. If the end in mind is to actually be integrated with allies or partners, then you need to start with that at the beginning, versus trying to build a plan from a U.S. perspective and then trying to figure out how do we bring our allies or partners in.”

During a speech to an audience of air chiefs here, Brown outlined three areas that need to be addressed: policies, processes and people.

For policies, the Air Force is beginning a new policy change for a program it calls “co-funding,” which will pool funding from multiple nations to commonly develop a system. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall this spring signed a memo formalizing the program, which had been used in individual efforts such as an electronic warfare suite developed by nations from the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 

Having countries come together through the Air Force’s international affairs office means the burden will be more evenly shared. The initial costs of development have been a hurdle blocking nations from beginning their own acquisition efforts.

“You don’t want to be the first country to ask for this. You’re paying for all the upfront costs that everybody else is going to benefit from,” Brown says. “You’d rather bring folks together to go: How do we reduce the cost for everybody?”

The service also is looking at its development and export policies to see where they can be opened up, to find ways for complementary designs instead of competing. European nations are increasing their spending, and the Air Force should be available to work with them to lay out an effective acquisition process, Brown says. 

For broad alliances such as NATO, there should be discussions about what capabilities are needed, Brown says. For example, “Europe has a lot of fighters within NATO” and a number of nations are modernizing their fleets. But there will continue to be a need for command and control aircraft, tankers and mobility in addition to fighters.

For processes, the Air Force needs to look at changing some of its red tape that limits how the service can work closely with allies and partners, he said. For example, the Air Force needs to stop its overuse of “Not Releasable” marking and overclassification, instead writing with the goal of information being shared immediately and then classified or other restricted information being added later, Brown says.

Lastly, for people-focused changes, the Air Force wants to increase its use of exchange programs, liaison officers, state partnerships and other bi- and multilateral efforts to get a “better understanding of the thought processes” for each nation, along with the political will for military actions, Brown says.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.