WASHINGTON: Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown’s Pacific theater experience will be critical to the service and to OSD as the Pentagon shifts its focus from Russia to China as the peer adversary of the future, observers say.
“It sends a message that the threat is China,” one insider said, noting Brown’s previous job as head of Pacific Air Forces. The Senate confirmed Brown yesterday by a vote of 98-0.
“He is a warfighter and a leader with deep knowledge and experience in the Indo-Pacific region—perfect choice for CSAF at this critical time in our nation’s history,” said Mark Gunzinger, an airpower expert at the Mitchell Institute.
Brown is a decorated fighter pilot, who earned his Air Force commission in 1984. Even back when first appointed as head of PACAF in 2018, Brown called China “our pacing threat.”
He has a deep understanding of how Joint operations work, and how the Air Force fits into the Joint construct, said another insider.
“I think he understands better than most what the nexus of service-level contributions to Joint operations should look like, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he drives organizational changes in the Air Force with an eye on greater efficiency and increased effectiveness to better integrate and support Joint warfighting,” the source told me.
Indeed, Brown co-wrote an article in Air and Space Power Journal with then-Lt. Col. Rick Fournier in 2016 advocating for better integration of the Air Component into Combatant Command operations. In a forward to the article, the then-Lt. Gen. Brown said:
“Having served on a COCOM [combatant command] operations directorate staff twice, worked within three air components, and now as commander of an air component, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the interaction of the air component with its respective COCOM and sister components. As a result of my experiences, I strongly believe the time has come for a change in our thinking to take advantage of our recent doctrine updates and make adjustments to the air component organizational construct.”
As the first black chief of staff, Air Force watchers note, Brown’s unanimous confirmation by the Senate today also sends a powerful signal — at a time when the American body politic is being roiled by racial unrest stemming from the on-camera death May 25 of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer with a long history of complaints for brutality. (The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder.)
Interestingly, Brown’s father served during the Vietnam war — during another era of racial and societal upheaval.
Brown himself posted a heartfelt video on Twitter on the death of Floyd and his own experience with racial prejudice. “I’m thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality,” he said.
While the US military as a whole is more racially diverse than the country (17 percent active duty military are African American vice 13 percent of all Americans according to the 2019 Census estimates), the Air Force has struggled with race relations. Blacks make up less than 15 percent of the Air Force.
A May 20 report, released by non-profit group Protect Our Defenders as the result of a law suit, charges the service with trying to hide the negative conclusions of its internal working group on racial disparity.
“The Air Force fought for almost three years to hide the findings and recommendations of the disparity working group, including the admission that racial disparity is consistent, persistent, and getting worse,” the report, “Federal Lawsuit Reveals Air Force Cover Up: Racial Disparities in Military Justice Part II,” charged.
According to a number of sources, Brown is widely respected by his peers and those who have served with him.
“People who have briefed him … say he is inquisitive, intelligence — taking it to the next layer of asking questions — and respectful,” one insider said.
“I join leaders, Airmen, and Space Professionals from across the forces on congratulating Gen. Brown and his wife Sharene,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said in a statement. “Leaders of their caliber will perpetuate the legacy of excellence that Gen. Goldfein and Dawn Goldfein have epitomized over the last four years. Gen. Brown’s unrivaled leadership, operational experience, and global perspective will prove crucial as we continue modernizing the Air Force to meet tomorrow’s national security challenges and protect our nation.”
Brown is expected to keep a keen focus on the the top priority of his predecessor: developing an Air Force approach to All Domain Command and Control that can link all sensors to all shooters across the military services and all five domains — air, land, sea, space and cyber. As Breaking D readers know, Goldfein has been a strong advocated of Joint All Domain Command and Control within the military, volunteering the Air Force to test key enabling concepts via the Advanced Battle Management System development effort.
However, in written answers to the Senate Armed Services Committee prior to his May 7 confirmation hearing, Brown signaled that he may be less cautious than Goldfein on the issue of kick-starting a review of the service’s roles and missions. Brown cited the establishment of the Space Force, as well as growing redundancies in the various service programs for long-range strike capabilities and base protection as reasons a roles and missions review could be useful.
“Gen. Brown is an innovative leader who clearly understands the complex and evolving strategic environment we face today as a Department,” Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Jay Raymond, said in the Air Force statement. “He clearly understands the importance of leading across all domains to compete, deter and win–especially in war-fighting domains like space. I am thrilled with Gen. Brown’s confirmation. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”
Brown will replace Goldfein in an Aug. 6 ceremony.
“In a nutshell, Gen. CG Brown is a straight shooter…he’s got the experience, the talent, the drive, and the perspective to be a great Air Force Chief of Staff. He’s the right man at the right time to be the Air Force Chief of Staff!” David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute and a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, said.