WASHINGTON — The Air Force chief of staff discussed airpower and the service’s warfighting capabilities across its core missions at the Air Force Association’s 2013 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17.
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III presented the Air Force update on the second day of the three-day, 55-session conference covering various topics pertaining to the total force.
Welsh described what the Air Force must do to remain dominant in air, space and cyberspace domains. He noted the service’s 690,000 members performing air-related duties compared to the Navy’s 70,000 personnel, the Marines’ 39,000 and the Army’s 34,000.
“There is one Air Force in America, and you’re in it,” Welsh said. “If the combatant commander wants airpower, there’s only one number to call.”
Welsh also addressed the issue of readiness, especially in light of current budget constraints. “We have to minimize the impact where we can – it’s not going to be good.”
The general acknowledged other impacts to the force, including scale-backs to exercises and weapons schools but said he remains confident in Airmen.
“Our force is better educated than it has ever been, and we need to empower our Airmen — they’re remarkably capable.”
Welsh encouraged the use of social media to facilitate two-way communication and buffer against communication pitfalls such as “stove-piped information.”
“Chief (Master Sgt. of the Air Force James) Cody and I are on Facebook and Twitter, which is terrifying,” Welsh said over laughter. “Follow us.”
Welsh said the newest “Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power for America” document is internally focused and designed to help Airmen understand their role in the broader scheme of the Air Force. He also described Air Force 2023, an effort in progress to incorporate resources and strategy.
“Then we start turning the ship and heading to whatever that picture of 2023 looks like,” Welsh said.
With budget woes casting a haze of uncertainty on the future, the general called the furlough “a breach of faith” that he hopes does not occur again. He acknowledged the challenges of Air Force civilians who’ve been without pay raises for three years.
Welsh also expressed concern about retaining the Air Force’s best Airmen, specifically pilots, as training hours dwindle and units are grounded.
“Our rated force has options,” Welsh said. “They served well and now they have choices to make … If we’re not letting them keep their edge, they’ll walk.”
The Air Force’s recapitalization priorities include the KC-46 tanker, the F-35 Lightning II and the long range-strike bomber — all critical in engaging with a determined, well-armed, well-trained opponent, the general explained.
Welsh said when people ask him if he worries about the Air Force’s future, the response is simple.
“The answer is no … I’ll never worry,” he said. “Not while (they) are on our side,” Welsh said of several Airmen he asked to join him on stage. “This is our Air Force.”