Goldfein: USAF Working To Help Suppliers Through COVID-19

Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein
Credit: USAF

The U.S. Air Force is applying its method of drawing innovative ideas into the service to help provide aerospace suppliers struggling in the COVID-19 downturn with the cash flow they need to stay in business, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said during a wide-ranging conversation with reporters. 

The briefing, which took place April 1 after a conversation between Goldfein and retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who leads the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, also touched on his discussions with Capitol Hill about the fiscal 2021 budget and his thoughts on the service’s pilot shortage.

Goldfein said techniques developed by Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, are being used in new ways. Roper helped the Air Force use congressional authority to rapidly contract with small businesses to seed emerging technologies being developed by businesses not accustomed to working with the Pentagon. The service has hosted a series of pitch days and put hundreds of companies on contract. Now that is being applied in new ways, Goldfein said.

“We’ve shifted from, you know, in-place pitch days to online, but it hasn’t slowed us down ... which I think is pretty, pretty amazing—how many contracts we’re writing on the spot … and then keeping these ... companies going to produce the kinds of parts that we need,” Goldfein said. “We won’t look the same as a defense industrial base, I don’t think, when we’re at the back end. But ... thank goodness Congress gave us those authorities when they did.”

Although Congress has been willing to significantly alter its contracting methods, the Air Force appears to be meeting some resistance to its fiscal 2021 budget proposal to retire legacy platforms in favor of a future with a solid digital foundation. Selling the idea to Congress, the chief said, is difficult, and even more so given the amount of the service portfolio that is classified.

“Right now, we have tripled the number of engagements we have done on the Hill,” Goldfein said. “I have not had one member of Congress or one staffer not look at me and say, ‘I get it, I got it. This makes perfect sense.’ So, we’ll see. ... It’s a tough conversation to have.”

In addition to continuing to work with the Hill on future budget priorities, Goldfein is looking ahead at what the future might hold for the service. Early modeling shows the COVID-19 crisis might begin to ease the Air Force’s longtime shortage of pilots and aircraft maintainers, he said. 

“It’s too early to predict, quite frankly, what the impact of COVID will be on the pilot shortage. But I  predict that there’s going to be stronger incentives, as the nation recovers from this economically, there will be stronger incentives to stay in the United States Air Force,” Goldfein said. “My job as chief is to make that flight experience, and maintenance experience, that air-battle-manager experience right across the Air Force as rich an experience as we can make it for them and their families …There are some predictive models that indicate that COVID will actually cause retention numbers to go up across the Air Force.”

Jen DiMascio

Based in Washington, Jen previously managed Aviation Week’s worldwide defense, space and security coverage.