Air Force Chief
Air Force Chief: Budget Cuts
Affect Combatant Commands
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C.
Marshall Jr., American Forces Press Service.
Washington D.C. – (AFPS)
– March 27, 2014 – Painful budget reductions will reduce the future capabilities
of combatant commanders, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told
Congress here yesterday.
Testifying alongside Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James at
a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Welsh
discussed the difficult decisions budget constraints have presented and will
continue to present to the Air Force’s role in defending national security.
“Every major decision reflected in this budget proposal hurts,” he said. “Each
of them reduces the capabilities our combatant commanders would love to have and
believe they need. Your Air Force is the finest in the world, and we need to
keep it that way. We built this budget to ensure that Air Force combat power
remains unequaled, but that does not mean it will remain unaffected.”
There are no more easy cuts, the general said. “We simply can’t ignore the fact that the law is currently
written [to return] us to sequestered funding levels in [fiscal year 2016],”
Welsh said. “So that’s also considered as part of our plan. To prepare for that,
we must cut people and force structure now to create a balanced Air Force that
we can afford to train and operate in [fiscal 2016] and beyond.”
Because the Air Force needed to cut billions rather than
millions of dollars out of its budget, “the normal trimming around the edges
just wasn’t going to get it done,” Welsh said. “So we looked at cutting fleets of aircraft as a way to get
to the significant savings that are required,” he added.
Welsh explained the logic of the “very tough decisions” that
had to be made.
“In our air superiority mission area, we already have
reductions in our proposal,” he said. “But eliminating an entire fleet would
leave us unable to provide air superiority for an entire theater of operations.
We are the only service that can do so.”
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance constitute the
No. 1 shortfall of the combatant commanders year after year, Welsh noted. “They
would never support even more cuts than we already have in our budget proposal,”
Noting the Air Force has “several aircraft” in the global
mobility mission area, Welsh said he spoke with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray
Odierno during budget planning to get his thoughts on reducing the airlift fleet. “His view was that a smaller Army would need to be more
responsive and able to move quicker,” Welsh said. “He did not think that
reducing airlift assets further was a good idea, and the [Air Force] secretary
and I agree. We looked at our air refueling fleets and considered divesting the
KC-10 as an option. Just one example, but the analysis showed us that the
mission impact was too significant.”
Welsh echoed testimony from James, who told the panel that a
return to sequester funding levels in fiscal 2016 would put the mobility fleet
back on the table. “We looked at the KC-135 fleet, but we would have to cut many
more KC-135s than KC-10s to achieve the same savings,” he said. “And with that
many KC-135s out of the fleet, we simply can’t meet our worldwide mission
In the strike mission area, Welsh said, cutting the A-10
fleet would save $3.7 billion across the future-year defense program and another
$500 million in cost avoidance for upgrades that wouldn’t be necessary. “To get
that same savings would require a much higher number of F-15E’s or F-16s [to be
cut], but we also looked at those options,” he added.
Air Force officials ran a detailed operational analysis,
Welsh said, comparing divestiture of the A-10 fleet to divestiture of the B-1
fleet, reduction of the F-16 and F-15E fleet, and to deferring procurement of a
large number of F-35s, as well as to decreasing readiness by standing down a
number of fighter squadrons and just parking them on the ramp. “We used the standard DOD planning scenarios,” Welsh said.
“The results very clearly showed that cutting the A-10 fleet was the lowest-risk
option, from an operational perspective, of a bunch of bad options. While no one
is happy, from a military perspective, it’s the right decision, and it’s
representative of the extremely difficult choices that we’re facing in the
The U.S. military must modernize, Welsh said, but today’s
declining budgets place limits on modernization. “And we must maintain the proper balance across all our
mission areas,” he added, “because that’s what the combatant commanders expect
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone
Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS) :
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