The joint force is in excellent shape, but leaders must pay attention to it, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C., June 15.
Welsh, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to the group as one of his last public acts in office. He retires later this month after 40 years in uniform.
But the general didn’t look back, and he said his service is well-placed to counter future threats.
Transnational, multi-domain threats
Welsh said he agrees with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that transnational, multi-domain threats will be the hallmark of conflict in the future.
“Compared to any other service, the Air Force is already operating transnationally and across domains today,” he said. “We cross a lot of boundaries.”
Aircraft, by their nature, are a transnational asset, he said, noting that aircraft launching from the U.S. can cross a number of combatant commands. The Air Force also does multi-domain operations every day, he added.
The Navy is another service with this expertise in its DNA, Welsh said. He noted the Navy is launching sorties from the Mediterranean Sea to the Middle East, crossing the boundary from U.S. European Command into U.S. Central Command’s area of operations.
“But what we need to do as a joint force is how do we bring all that together,” he said. “The other services do the same thing — we just do it on a broader scale day to day.”
The American military is used to dealing with transnational and multi-domain conflict, the general said, but military leaders need to make sure the command and control systems and sensor networks are capable of connecting across all lines.
Prioritization of planning, resources
The Joint Chiefs are worried about prioritization of planning and prioritization of resource assignment as they look at problems that straddle geographic lines, Welsh told the writers.
“If you take Russia as an example, if someone asks, ‘What’s the issue with Russia, and what’s our plan for action if the next Russian action should occur?’ It’s not just U.S. European Command, which is where everybody tends to look,” he said. “European Command is worried about any engagement with Russia, but so is Central Command, so is Pacific Command, so is Strategic Command, Northern Command — everybody is worried about it.”
The question then becomes how the military balances the priority for planning and resources across all those lines. “The chairman really has to be the one, along with the Joint Staff, to do that direction and prioritization,” Welsh said. “That’s what Gen. Dunford is talking about.”
Joint force is healthy
The joint force is really healthy, the general said — able to execute the strategy well and amazingly capable. “If you look at the results of joint operations over time, they are pretty darn good,” he said. “There is no one on Earth that’s as capable as the American military.”
The joint force has the same problem the Air Force has, the general said. “We’re short on people in many areas,” he explained. “We need to modernize. We just have got to realize that for the tasks we’ve been given, there needs to be a certain level of resources assigned to it, or change the tasking.”
The last is not something military leaders decide, Welsh said.
“If we decide that the United States is not going to be as engaged and use its military as it has for the last 50 or 60 years, OK,” he said. “Then we will tell you what the military needs to look like to do whatever the nation wants us to be able to do. But you can’t expect to keep using us the way we’ve been used over the last 50 years and cut the size of the force and limit our ability to modernize it. That combination doesn’t work.”