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Welsh: Sequestration Harms Aging, Shrinking Air Force

By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2015 – The capability gap separating the U.S. Air Force from others is narrowing and requires modernization to help the service maintain its asymmetric advantage, the service’s chief of staff testified before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee here today.

Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III made the case to modernize and remain a capable and ready force as the service requests $10 billion above current sequestration funding levels.

“We know it won’t be easy and it will require accepting prudent operational risk in some mission areas for a period of time,” the general said.

Modernizing Isn’t an Option

But, Welsh asserted, the option of not modernizing isn’t an option, for if the Air Force remains at Budget Control Act funding levels, it will no longer be able to execute the strategic guidance, which will stall short-term readiness recovery, threaten long-term infrastructure and further delay modernization.

“Air forces that fall behind the technology curve fail,” he said, “and joint forces without the full breadth of air, space and cyber power that modern air power brings to the battle space will lose.”

In 1990, the Air Force deployed to Operation Desert Storm with 188 fighter squadrons in its inventory, Welsh said. But the current budget, he explained, will drop the service to just 49.

Similarly, the Air Force had 511,000 active duty airmen in service during Desert Storm, but now operates with some 200,000 fewer today, he said.

“As the numbers came down, the operational deployments and tempo went up steadily,” Welsh said. “The Air Force was fully engaged, and now more than ever we need a capable and fully ready force.”

But the general warned that continuing to cut force structure to absorb the cost of that readiness and modernization creates a risk of the Air Force becoming too small to succeed.

An Aging Air Fleet

In addition to size, the Air Force has been plagued with an aging fleet, as it continues to fly some of the oldest aircraft it’s ever had.

“In 1991, it would’ve been ludicrous for us to talk to [Congress] about considering using World War II’s venerable B-17 bomber to strike targets in Baghdad during the first Gulf War,” Welsh said. “But if we had used it, it would’ve been younger than the B-52, the K-135 and the U-2 are today.”

The Air Force currently has 12 fleets of aircraft that qualify for antique license plates in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the general reported. “And we have four fleets of aircraft that could very happily enroll in AARP today.”

And while the general said he recognizes that the Air Force must be an active partner in saving taxpayer dollars, he also echoed other military leaders’ pleas for congressional support to be prepared to confront today’s security threats and those in the future.

“Our airmen deserve that, our joint team needs it, and I believe the nation still expects it,” he said.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews) 

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Biographies:
Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III

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