Budget concerns affect every aspect of the Air Force, but the service must continue to modernize, the service’s chief of staff told the Defense Writers Group here Nov. 12.
In forming the defense strategy, the service chiefs have to take resources into consideration, Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said.
“To some extent, numbers have always driven strategy,” he added. “A strategy uninformed by resources is not a strategy – it’s a dream. We’ve got to understand the reality of where we are going in order to build a strategy that makes sense for the nation.”
As Joint Chiefs of Staff try to determine what the military can do with the reality of a sequestered budget, the service chiefs’ responsibility is to tell national leaders “what we are capable of doing with the level of resources we think we’re going to have over the next 10 years,” the general said.
Today, the Air Force and the rest of the services are doing this on multiple levels. Planners are looking at three different budgets: the president’s budget request, a midpoint budget and the sequester budget. The service chiefs need to be straightforward about how much money it takes to field a capability, Welsh said, and what capacity is needed to be credible.
“Our job is to make sure everybody understands the military situation clearly,” he said. “Where we would be failing is if we came out of all this and somebody thought we could continue to do all the things we’ve done in the past when we won’t have the capability or capacity. We need to make sure that everyone understands where reality lies. And then we execute. That’s our job.”
The Air Force is a high-tech force, the general told the reporters, so modernization is a requirement. Updating the service’s fighter, aerial refueling and long-range strike bomber fleets are the recapitalization programs the Air Force has to stand behind to be a viable force in the mid-2020s, he said.
Beyond these programs, Welsh added, officials have looked at every other modernization program in the Air Force. If sequestration remains unchanged, the Air Force will have to cut 50 percent of these programs just to be able to afford some level of readiness and to modernize the force, he said.
The general acknowledged that morale of Air Force military and civilian personnel concerns him.
Military morale remains “pretty good,” he said, with some units having a downturn.
“Airmen are still pretty excited about what they do,” Welsh said. “They are very proud of what they do. They want to be the best in the world at what they do. When they can’t be, that’s when we’re going to have a morale problem and they will choose other options, because they’ve got them.”
Leaders must ensure Airmen have the training, the education and the tools they need to be the best at what they do, Welsh said. Still, he added, the force is confused and is concerned about the future.
Welsh said he believes morale is better than people think among the Air Force’s civilian employees, given three years of no pay raises, this year’s furloughs and the recent government shutdown.
“The civilians I’ve talked to told me they could almost understand [the furlough] ? they didn’t like it, but they understood it,” he said. The Air Force lost 8 million manhours to furlough, and it was “a huge deal,” he said.
But the government shutdown took civilians over the top, Welsh said, and Air Force civilians now are worried about job stability and job security. They are also worried that government shutdowns may become the common response from now on if Congress can’t come to an agreement.
“We have a lot of civilians now who are contemplating other career choices,” Welsh said. “That’s not a good thing for the Department of Defense. Our civilian workforce is essential to us; critical. I feel we have to rebuild trust with our civilian workforce, and that’s a horrible situation to be in. We, as a government, let them down last year.”