WASHINGTON — “The demand for what the Air Force provides is on the rise; unfortunately, the supply is going in the other direction,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.
Welsh spoke to members of the National Press Club about tough choices the Air Force has had to make in the face of budgetary constraints, during a breakfast April 23 here.
“Every recommendation we’re making these days does hurt,” Welsh said. “It’s taking capability or capacity away from combatant commanders. We’re figuring out how to wisely move forward, keeping our Air Force balanced as we downsize it over time. We’re reducing capability in every one of our core mission areas, that’s the reality of it — every, single one.”
Welsh described many behind-the-scenes activities and operations, which typically go unseen by most Airmen and the public.
“When you walk into a room and you look at a light switch on the wall, unless you’re an electrician, you really don’t have idea what’s behind the wall,” he said. “But every time you flip the switch, the light comes on; every, single time. That’s kind of the way our Air Force is. We don’t do a whole lot of things in the world that are visible to you every day.”
Welsh highlighted the key mission areas in which Airmen operate on a daily basis, and the analytical processes used to determine where to make necessary cuts with the least mission impact.
“We’re doing everything we can to maintain that balance between being ready to do the nation’s business today, and being capable of doing it ten years from now,” Welsh said. “It’s hard to make a $20 billion reduction per year without making some significant change. Trimming around the edges as we make our budget proposal just wasn’t going to work. We had to look at some pretty dramatic things.”
One of the dramatic changes is the proposed elimination of the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet.
“It’s not emotional, it’s logical; it’s analytical,” Welsh explained. “It makes eminent sense from a military perspective, if you have to make these kinds of cuts. Nobody likes it.”
He described the process of getting to the conclusion of cutting one of the Air Force’s most beloved airplanes, and one that he has flown. To find the same $4.2 billion savings in air superiority; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; global airlift and command and control posed unacceptable risks to all service chiefs and combatant commanders, Welsh said.
“So we looked at all those options,” he said. “We took each one independently and we ran it through an operational analysis, and we came very clearly to the conclusion that of all those horrible options, the least operationally impactful was to divest the A-10 fleet. That’s how we got there.”
Welsh said to achieve the same monetary savings of divesting the A-10 fleet, it would take about 363 F-16 Fighting Falcons out of the fight.
“Everything in this entire chain of events is hard,” he said. “The balance is pretty delicate; the cuts are real. The issues are serious, and they deserve serious consideration.”
Although the financial climate, coupled with a growing and evolving threat environment, puts additional strain on all branches of the nation’s military, Welsh expressed his confidence in the capabilities of the Airmen in his charge.
“This is a fascinating time to be in the U.S. military, and it’s a great time to be an American Airman,” he said. “Your Airmen are very proud of who they are; they’re incredibly proud of what they do, and they’re incredibly good at doing it.”