is imperative to modernize the Air Force despite difficult budgeting
choices that will have to be made, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen.
Mark A. Welsh III said in Orlando, Florida on Feb. 12, 2015.
Speaking during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium and
Technology Exposition, the general discussed the need for force
“We must modernize the Air Force,” he said.
“This isn't optional; we must do it. And it will be painful, because
we have to make very difficult choices to get the money inside our
topline at current funding levels to do it.”
how aging fleets and less personnel strength can affect the Air
“Most of you will remember Desert Shield and
Desert Storm,” he said. “When we deployed in 1990 to that conflict,
the United States Air Force had 188 fighter squadrons -- 188. In the
FY ‘16 budget, we'll go to 49; 188 to 49.”
Welsh noted in
1990, there were 511,000 active duty airmen; now the Air Force has
313,000 -- a 40 percent smaller force.
“There is no excess
capacity anymore,” he said. “There is no bench to go to in the Air
Force. Everything's committed to the fight.”
“I'd love to be
able to tell you that, that much smaller force is more modern, more
capable [and] younger, but I can't,” Welsh said.
perspective on the age of the fleet, Welsh said during Desert Storm
the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress wasn't considered for bombing
“If we had used the B-17 in the first Gulf War,” he
said, “it would have been five years younger at that time than the
B-52, the KC-135 and the U-2 are today.”
“We have 12 fleets
of airplanes ... that qualify for antique license plates right here in
the great state of Florida,” Welsh said. “And we have four that
qualify for ... [AARP].”
The general used a NASCAR race picture led by
the #43 Air Force-sponsored stock car to further drive home his
“Four laps before this picture was taken, the 43 car
had a four- to five-car-length lead,” Welsh said.
last couple of laps, the #41 and #55 cars have been steadily
closing,” he said. “The gap's shrinking just like our technology
lap, just like our capacity gap is shrinking.”
When do we get
to the point, Welsh asked, where no matter how fast #43 tries to
accelerate, the momentum gained by 41 and 55 puts them in the lead?
“That's the game we're playing,” he said. “Tough game; maybe a
Welsh said Air Force leadership has been
trying to reset some areas for the last couple of years.
because they're broken,” he said, “not because we're not doing great
work, but because we need to reset some things. We've done this
Following World War I, Welsh said, the Army Air
Corps noted the “big lessons” learned, which were reconnaissance and
pursuit. Then, he said, during World War II the lessons of strategic
bombardment became clear.
“We came out of World War II with
this idea that strategic bombardment was the future of air forces,”
Welsh said. Except for a tactical diversion in Korea, he said, the
service's leaders focused on building the best strategic Air Force
The general said Vietnam yielded tactical lessons
learned, which led to a “really good” tactical and strategic Air
Then 1990 came, Welsh said, “and we made Operation
Desert Storm look ridiculously easy.
“It wasn't that easy,
but we were that good and that large,” he said. “And then for the
last 25 years, we've been fighting a different type of enemy -- a
shadowy enemy, harder to pin down, harder to isolate.”
Serving in more of a counterinsurgency supporting role, Welsh said,
the Air Force “revolutionized and gave birth” to an entirely new
generation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
capability, and a new understanding of how it could be used.
“Where we've come in the last 25 years in ISR is stunning,” he said.
“We operationalized space capabilities; we jumped into the cyber
domain. But it's been about 25 years and that's about the cycle for
these resets –- it's time to do it again.”
Next for the Air Force
noted there are specific areas in need for reset -- namely
“We've spent a lot of time lately taking
money out of this [area] to pay for operational activity as our
budgets were stressed,” he said.
“But there is infrastructure
in our Air Force which creates mission capability,” Welsh said.
“I'll refer to it as critical mission infrastructure. This isn't
something [like] you can just not build another dorm and it won't
hurt you over time ... this is stuff that will keep you from
developing combat capability.”
This infrastructure, he said,
includes test facilities, training ranges and simulation, education
infrastructure and nuclear infrastructure -- things that the service
cannot do without.
“We have got to get back,” Welsh said, “to
a persistent, consistent investment in this kind of infrastructure,
or our Air Force will break 10 years from now.”
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
News / Defense Media Activity
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