The Air Force’s top leaders said Jan. 11 the service has accomplished much while dealing with many challenges in the last year.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III briefed members of the media here on the state of the service and its focus on the areas of force structure, readiness and modernization.
“America’s Airmen are focused on their missions, and they demonstrate every day what it means to be members of the world’s finest air force,” Donley said. “These Total Force Airmen – active duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian – are the reason I can say without reservation that the state of our Air Force remains strong.”
The secretary dedicated a significant amount of time explaining how the nation’s fiscal challenges have affected and will continue to affect the force.
“Our nation’s ongoing budget gymnastics exert costly consequences upon the Air Force and our sister services and create an atmosphere of unease among many of our uniformed and civilian Airmen,” Donley said. “Given that we are now into the second quarter of (fiscal 2013), we can no longer live under the uncertainty of sequestration and continuing resolution without taking action.”
Prudent planning is required to mitigate budget risks and minimize impacts to readiness, the secretary said, adding that guidance will be provided to the force in a few days to begin planning for the uncertain budget environment ahead.
As part of the planning, Air Force leaders are dedicated to avoiding a hollow force — one that looks good on paper but has more units and equipment than it can support, lacks the resources to adequately train and maintain them, and keep up with advancing technologies.
“We believe the best path forward is to become smaller in order to protect a high quality and ready force that will improve in capability,” Donley said.
In doing this, Welsh emphasized the importance of sustaining the enduring contributions the Air Force provides that will continue to guide the service as it moves forward, no matter what happens with the fiscal realities of the future.
“As we move toward that smaller, more capable and ready force; we have to be careful to protect our whole mission,” Welsh said. “If we don’t, the entire joint force is affected, and it’s impacted in a significant way.”
According to the secretary, the service has already suffered great impacts to its readiness levels.
“More than two decades of war and other operations have had an impact on our readiness, straining our Airmen and their families, reducing opportunities for training and taking a toll on equipment,” Donley said.
In order for the Air Force to improve on current readiness levels, Welsh said modernization remains a top priority, recalling a childhood memory of his grandfather’s then new, ‘sweet’ car to help characterize the issue.
“If we were at Minot (Air Force Base) today, I could take you out on the flight line and show you a whole bunch of ‘sweet’ B-52s,” Welch said. “And in 2028, when we deliver the last KC-46 tanker, we’ll still have about 200 ‘sweet’ KC-135s on the ramp. And they’ll be about the same age then — 60 — as my grandfather’s car would be today.”
The difference is, he said, his grandfather’s car has an antique license plate on it today, while America’s Airmen will be flying these aircraft in 2028, in contingencies and combat zones around the world.
Which is why, modernization isn’t an option, Welsh said, “It doesn’t matter if we get smaller. We have got to figure out how to make modernization happen.”
During the briefing, the general also took time to highlight the recent release of the Air Force Vision Statement, which embraces innovation as almost a genetic trait of every Airman.
“I believe that’s true. In order for us to be successful, I think it has to be true,” Welsh said. “We intend to remain the world’s greatest air force, powered by Airmen and fueled by innovation.”