CSIS Military Strategy Forum: Gen. Mark A. Welsh

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the chief of staff of the Air Force, addressed the future of the Air Force Thursday before a large audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Welsh spoke on a variety of issues and emphasized the idea for One Air Force. He pointed out that all Air Force “enablers,” including ISR, airlift, positioning/navigation/timing, nuclear and air/space superiority, have now become mainstream military capability.

The future of the Air Force is a challenge, Welsh told the audience. He said the Air Force has started to look at specific aircraft and specialties to see where shifts between components can occur. Further, the service has to relook at what deploy-to-dwell means. The Air National Guard, for instance, will look to test and maintain a 1-to-5 ratio. The Air Force needs to be better integrated among its components, looking towards a future, for example, where many deputy positions may be held by reserve-component members. And finally, the Air Force must determine how to best resource itself, specifically at sequester levels.

Compounding many of the challenges of the future, Welsh acknowledged, is the fact that the Air Force has not had a new strategy in more than nine years. Right now, it is looking at a “global vision, global reach and global power,” but the new strategy is one of “strategic agility.”

To accomplish this, the Air Force will move in stages. First, it will develop a 30-year strategy updated every four years and reviewed every two. Secondly, there will be a master plan which is “fiscally informed” looking out 20 years. And finally there will be a 10-year look on how to fund and balance resources.

Over the past few years, the Air Force has been unable to provide a strategy, because the strategy people are also the program objective memorandum folks who have been busy creating POMs, alternative POMs and the budget. Therefore, the Air Force is considering a restructure of this area, putting the budget planning under the Air Force financial management and comptroller office.

But at the end of the day, Welsh said, sequester means that “every decision hurts and the AF is now in a position where there are no easy decisions . . . and the combatant commanders have less of everything.” The Air Force’s abilities have diminished and it now must look to prioritize things it has to do versus what it is asked to do.

Welsh went further to say that the service has to balance readiness today versus capability and capacity in the future. Older equipment will make the Air Force less competitive, therefore modernization is critical, as well as recapitalization. In terms of readiness, the Air Force has been in decline since 2003 and has not been able to train in highly contested exercises.

When asked about the relationship between the active and the reserve, Welsh said it was improving. He mentioned that Air Force completely agreed with 11 recommendations made in the recent report from the Commission on the Structure of the Air Force.

I had the opportunity to piggyback on the commission comment and asked about the recommendation to concurrently and proportionally field new equipment among the components, specifically in the critical area of C-130s in the Air National Guard.

In his response, Welsh said, “We do not have that many C-130Js coming. If we had more money to buy more C-130Js everyone would get a piece.” He elaborated a bit more in terms of future fielding, but concluded his response by saying, “C-130s are a big issue, and I am going to ask for a plan, and we will all have to sit down and talk.”

Luckily, the chief of staff of the Air Force did say he believes in balanced and proportionate fielding.

This is music to NGAUS’s ears as one of our top priorities this year is advocating and asking for a modernization and recapitalization plan for the Air National Guard’s C-130 fleet.

Mary Catherine Ott is the NGAUS legislative affairs manager for air programs and cyber security.

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