Department of Defense Press Briefing on the State of the Air Force
Department of Defense Press
Briefing on the State of the Air Force
Presenters: Deborah Lee James,
Secretary of the Air Force; General Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of
Staff, July 30, 2014. (Source
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah
James: Thanks to all of you for joining us and spending some time this
I have now been on the job as the 23rd secretary of the Air
Force for about seven months, and during that seven month period, I have divided
my time. Obviously, some of it here in Washington, focused on working with
Congress, working on budget matters, a variety of policy issues, and the other
part of my time, I have focused on getting out and around and seeing our Air
Force in action.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force COS Gen. Mark A. Welsh III briefing reporters
And I have seen all of our five core missions at work now,
including at 39 different bases across the United States in 22 of our states,
and I've been overseas now twice, to include Afghanistan, Kuwait, the United
Arab Emirates, Qatar, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
Now, when I took over as secretary of the Air Force, I did
establish right from the beginning three priorities. They're critical for all of
us as we go forward to accomplish all of our missions. And these three
priorities, just as a reminder, are taking care of people, number two, striking
the right balance between the readiness of today and providing for our readiness
and modernization tomorrow, and number three -- very importantly, in this very
tight budget environment -- we need to make sure that we make every dollar
count. Because the taxpayer dollar is precious, and we have to spend all of
those dollars wisely.
So, today, what I'd like to do -- I'd like to give you sort
of my take -- my update on how I think we're doing against all three of these
So, beginning with taking care of people -- obviously,
critically important. And there are many, many elements to the people's story in
the Air Force. But I will tell you, my take, after seven months, is, we are very
blessed in the Air Force, because we have really, really impressive airmen. They
are smart, they are dedicated, they are motivated. They're really pumped is the
way I would put it.
We have been very, very fortunate to have -- and continue to
have -- solid recruiting and retention. And for the most part across our Air
Force, morale is high. So, all of that is very, very good news.
But I will tell you this. I do feel that our airmen are
feeling some strains. And the biggest reason for this -- the biggest issue on
the minds of our airmen -- and I know this because I do all calls everywhere I
go -- is the uncertainty that they are facing because of the downsizing and the
uncertainties of budgets, and where are we going with our Air Force.
So, now, General Welsh, when I yield to him in a few minutes,
is going to give you an update on that downsizing and on our force management
processes. But one thing I would just say for now -- and I know we -- I speak
for both of us -- our mutual desire is to get where we need to go as quickly as
we can, to get it over with as quickly as we can, and then to move on to the
future of our Air Force.
Now, beyond that, there's two special topics that I'd like to
just pick out. Many topics in personnel, but there's two others that I'd like to
touch upon. And the first one is sexual assault -- very, very important topic.
And everywhere I go, each and every installation, I always ask -- and I have, in
fact, met privately with our Sexual Assault Response Coordinators -- again,
around the country and around the world. I do meet with them in private. I ask
them to give me the utmost candor. And the bottom-line question that I'm always
looking for is, do you think we're on the right path? Are we making progress in
stamping out this crime?
And my take on this, after seven months in all of my
discussions, plus my discussions with other leaders -- General Grosso, and so
forth -- is that we are making good progress. Our reporting is up. Our -- we had
increased reports in F.Y. '13, and also the preliminary reports for F.Y. '14 are
up. And I think that's good news, because that means, to me at least -- I
believe it means that our victims are feeling more confident. They're feeling
more comfortable in coming forward and explaining what has happened to them.
Now, we don't yet have our prevalence data. That will be
coming later in the year, so we don't yet know the progress that we have made or
not made when it comes to prevalence, but we will know later this year.
I'm also hearing from the field that they believe that the
commanders are on top of this, that they are taking it seriously -- this is a
serious matter across our Air Force, and it is viewed as such.
I'm hearing that our training has been improved. I've gone
through some of the training myself. I thought it was terrific training. So, the
training has been improved over the last year or two. And we're also constantly
looking at the care that we give to victims. To tweak it this way or tweak it
that way, to try to make it the absolute most supportive that we can.
And as I think you all know, we have as a general proposition
rededicated ourselves over the last few months to what we call our core values,
which is important across all parts of the Air Force. And the core values, of
course, are integrity, service before self, and excellence.
So, all of these things to me add up to what I say we are
making progress in this front. But progress is, of course, not good enough. What
we have to do is, we have to keep on it. And so, it means persistent focus,
persistent leadership, and persistent action for pretty much forever. That's
what we just have to keep on. And the chief and I are fully committed to doing
The second topic on personnel is our total force, which, of
course, to us means our active duty, our National Guard, our reserve, and our
civilian workforce. And everywhere I have been, I have seen a terrific total
force team in action.
Now, when it comes to the active duty, the Guard and reserve,
you're probably aware that we have made the commitment over the next several
months really through the end of this calendar year. We are going to be
assessing on a mission by mission basis our force to see what additional
capability might we put in the future into the Guard and Reserve, and we believe
we'll have 80 percent of that -- of our entire force looked at between now and
the end of the year.
So, of course we don't know how that will turn out, but I
would expect that out of that, we will come up with additional missions,
additional capabilities, that we would ask our Guard and Reserve to assume in
the future, and so I see the future of our people program to be more reliant,
not less reliant, on our National Guard and Reserve.
All right. Shifting now to the balance between readiness of
today and our modernization, meaning our readiness of tomorrow. Coming off of 13
years of war and most recently, coming off of sequestration, I will say in my
opinion we are not where we need to be or want to be in the Air Force when it
comes to our full spectrum of readiness.
And certainly, if you look back over the last month or two,
it has been an extremely volatile world, which makes me concentrate even more on
our readiness. So I'm talking about the Ukraine and Russia, and we're talking
about the situation in Iraq with ISIL, and then there's Libya. And you could go
on and on. It's a volatile world, and readiness is key, because at any time we
could be asked to step up to the plate and conduct some dangerous missions.
And so that's precisely why we chose to pump more money into
our F.Y. '15 budget proposal to get those readiness levels up in our Air Force,
full spectrum readiness. So, this includes investment in training and range
infrastructure, and munitions, and maintenance. All of these things play into
Now, as you know, tight budgets, we had to figure out how to
pay for this sort of an initiative, and among other things, we did suggest
retiring some older aircraft to pay for this priority as well as tomorrow's
modernization, and it has been difficult to get some of these proposals approved
through the Congress. It's not done yet, but it's been a difficult road. It also
appears, at least as it stands now, that we will not be provided with the
authority to do another round of base closures.
So, basically the message that General Welsh and I keep
taking to Congress at every stage that we can is -- obviously is Congress's
constitutional prerogative to rearrange priorities, but in so doing, please do
not carve money out of our readiness accounts, as these priorities need to be
paid for, because readiness is key, and we need to get those levels up. And by
the way, please Congress, lift sequestration in F.Y. '16. Because if these
difficult choices in F.Y. '15 were troublesome, hold on to your hats, because
it's going to get worse and even more difficult in F.Y. '16. So, this is a
message that I wanted to repeat today. I think it's very important. We need to
get full spectrum readiness up.
And now that I talked about today's readiness, let me shift
to the future, tomorrow's readiness. What's our Air Force going to look like 10,
20, 30 years from now? Well, I also told you, I already told you, I think we'll
have greater reliance on our Guard and Reserve, because obviously you know our
numbers have been coming down. We're going to leverage the Guard and Reserve
more, I would predict. But we have to maintain that technological edge. We have
to be -- remain ready, with top notch people, as we have today. And we need to
become more agile, more quick, at everything that we do.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on
the state of the Air Force and its prospects for the future
So, what does all that mean? Well, it means a lot of things.
So, for one thing we need to keep working diligently on our top three programs,
the new fighter, the new tanker, the new bomber, and General Welsh is going to
give you some updates on those three in a few moments. There's other technical
investments as well.
We're going to need to invest more, in my opinion, in space
and cyber as we go forward. And you guys have heard me say it again, say it
before, and I'll say it again. We also need to continue and invest more in the
number one mission, which is the nuclear enterprise in the Air Force. Obviously,
we need to keep the focus on readiness and people going forward.
Now, all of this is tricky business because we're back to
that story of the budget, which is likely to remain flat, I think, if we're
lucky. It could be going down if it's seqestration. Which brings me to that
third priority, and that is make every dollar count.
I'm certainly focused, as is General Welsh, on getting the
absolute best value for the taxpayer, the most capability at the least cost. And
so to help us achieve this goal, we have to do a number of things. We have to
keep our programs on track and delivering and on schedule and not over-running
to the very best of our ability. We have to build affordability, right from the
beginning, into our new programs, whenever we have the opportunity to do so. And
by the way, that's what we did with the long range strike bomber, that's what we
did with the combat rescue helicopter. We need to keep that up.
We have to attack headquarters spending. And you all saw we
just announced that we're going to reduce 20 percent in one year, not five, so
we're aggressively going after that. We're aggressively going to go after
contract spending as well: spending on contractors. This has already been
happening, and we want to take a fresh look at that and see if we can do better.
And then we're bubbling up ideas from the field. We've invited our airmen to
come in and give us ideas of what they see from their work environment of ways
that we can do things differently, save money, save time. And that's our make
every dollar count campaign, and we've gotten thousands of ideas from our airmen.
As you can imagine, not every idea is implementable, but we're reviewing the
ideas, and we're implementing some, and we're projecting about $76 million in
savings from the ideas that we've already approved. But this is our way of
getting everybody involved with making every dollar count.
Now, before I wrap and yield to General Welsh, just a few
more words about the Air Force of the future. Today, we are rolling out a new
strategic framework, and we're calling it "A Call to the Future," which
represents a roadmap to help guide our long-range planning efforts, and we'll
also help us, this is very important, make smart money and policy choices going
forward. It's very important you not only have a strategy, but then you need to
follow through with the money choices and the policy choices.
Now, as I was going through my confirmation process on
Capitol Hill, and I would do my courtesy calls with senators, I frequently heard
that they felt that the Air Force seemed to lack consistency in our policy
choices, our resource choices. One year we would say this, another year, we
would say that. That was the perception that I heard on Capitol Hill. Well, this
kind of a framework, if we follow through with it, should certainly help us
attain better results in that consistency department.
Now, the document is a third in what you might call a trilogy.
The first, our vision document, kinda tells who we are. It's a lot about our
airmen. The second one, "Global Vigilance, Global Power, Global Reach," this is
a document that talks about our five core missions. It tells the what we do
story. And the third one, the one that we're rolling out today, talks about
where are we going. So, we've got the who, the what, and the where.
And as you go through it, you'll see it's not a warfighting
document, it's not a new national security strategy, it doesn't replace current
doctrine, it's not any of those things, but rather what it is, it's a framework
which is intended to help guide us in our Title X responsibilities for our Air
Force, which is organizing and training and equipping, going forward.
So, the basic premise is that we never ever seem to
accurately predict the future. We never get it right. And so therefore we're
going to have to continue to be able to step up to the plate and do a range of
missions and also that we need to get ahead of the curve when it comes to the
enormous and very rapid change that we're seeing in our world. And I'm talking
about changes in technology, changes in different nations and groups acquiring
weapons, changes in how we communicate with one another. Who ever saw Facebook
and Twitter 10 years ago? These are all enormous changes in a short period of
time. Geopolitical instability changes as well.
So, these are the hallmarks of the strategic environment that
we're going to face, and so therefore, instead of focusing on a specific threat,
we're trying to focus and recognize this quick pace of change, and we have to
recognize in ourselves the imperative that we be able to change more quickly as
Strategic agility is what we're shooting for. So, this
phrase, "strategic agility," should allow us to rapidly adjust to evolving
threat environments faster than our potential adversaries, and help us counter
some of this great uncertainty.
Now, this whole concept is going to take time, obviously, to
instill into a big institution like the Air Force, because I don't know that
we're known for being, you know, enormously agile at the moment. But you have to
start somewhere, and so this is where we're going to get started. And by the way,
we just reorganized our headquarters Air Force staff in order to take these --
these points, and ultimately over time, make those resource decisions and policy
decisions to make this strategy real.
So, as we move forward, I would predict that you will see us
embed this concept of strategic agility into a lot of key areas that we're going
to be working on. So, when it comes to people and training, which is a Title X
responsibility, you'll see us embed into policies and decisions and whatnot, the
concepts of more empowerment for our Air Force airmen, our members; more
continuum of service, the flow between active, guard and reserve and back in a
more seamless way; more live virtual constructive training so that we can train
in different ways than we train today; diversity of thought, critical thinking
skills for airmen.
These are all the things that you can expect to see us work
on when it comes to people and training.
In acquisitions, design agility into our requirements across
processes to build in more frequent pivot points, which will mean opportunities
to modify or abandon pieces or technologies within programs and be able to
harness rapid prototyping to bring a design idea into service more quickly.
You're going to see us continue to elevate affordability in
new programs, as well as exportability. Think through in the beginning. We want
allies. We want interoperability. What types of things could we export and build
in those requirements from the get-go?
When it comes to investments, I think you can continue to see
us talk about some that you are aware of, but maybe some less so. We have got to
invest more in our nuclear deterrence. I've said that repeatedly. We've started
and we're going to continue on that. ISR will continue to be extremely important
and we will continue to invest.
Stand-off and long-range weapons. I already mentioned the
importance of space and cyberspace. And then there are key technologies which
could be game-changers. We don't know yet, but they could be -- things like
hypersonics, directed energy, to name just a few.
And the last point I will give you about this strategic
framework is we talk about a multi-domain approach. And so this is the idea that
we have really three domains that we operate in. We operate in the air. We
operate in space. And we operate in cyberspace.
And for any new challenge that we might encounter, it maybe
is not the correct answer that it requires a new plane or a new munition to go
on a new plane. Maybe there are ways to leverage space. Maybe there are ways to
leverage cyber in order to address that problem. We don't know, but we have to
open up our minds much, much more to what we're calling the multi-domain
So as I conclude, the bottom line that I would give you -- my
bottom line after my first seven months on the job, our Air Force is in good
shape today, but we're feeling some strains. The future depends I think in large
part on how well we plan and execute some of the things that we've talked about
today and how well we do that consistently over the years.
And we certainly hope and we expect and we will continue to
work with Congress to help us in this regard, to support us in this regard. Very
importantly, we are going to continue to talk about lifting sequestration and
protecting readiness. And again, I want to thank you for your time today that
you're spending with us.
And let me yield now to General Welsh.
General Mark Welsh: Thanks,
Good afternoon, everybody, and thanks for taking the time to
It's a fascinating time to be in the U.S. military and it is
always a great time to be an American airman. Our Air Force supports military
operations all over the world, all day, every day, whether it's ongoing
operations in Afghanistan, counterterrorism activities in Africa, training with
and assuring friends during exercises in eastern Europe, sitting nuclear alert
in the American Midwest, conducting ISR partnership building and missile defense
in the Pacific, standing the watch in Korea, or sitting here defense alert here
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III on the
state of the Air Force and its prospects for the future
Our job is to provide combatant commanders with air power
options to handle any contingency they may face. And like you guys, we're pretty
good at our job.
In order to continue doing all of this, we have a
responsibility to our airmen to maintain the balance between being ready to do
the job today and being able to do it 10 years from now. That's not an easy task
in the best of financial times, but these days under sequestration it's getting
So we prioritized three acquisition programs this past year:
the F-35, the KC-46, and the long-range strike bomber because we believe they
are operational imperatives for the joint force of 2025 and beyond. If we expect
to remain the world's leading air power nation, a distinction that gives us an
undeniable asymmetric advantage today, we must recapitalize our aging legacy
So, let me start with that fighter fleet. The F-35 is the
answer, the only answer that will ensure future air campaigns are not a fair
fight. And there's good news to report on this program. We're reaching important
F-35 milestones. Eglin Air Force Base just took delivery of the 26 F-35A in May,
so the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin now has its full complement of aircraft.
That's a major milestone on the flight path to initial
operational capability for the Air Force in late 2016. Aircraft production costs
are tracking down now well-understood, predictable price curves and both test
and training programs are moving forward steadily. The recent engine fire has
gotten a lot of attention. It slowed our flight activity as we worked both
aircraft and engine manufacturers to completely understand the root cause.
We've implemented a restricted flight envelope which you've
read about which will remain in effect until we understand that root cause
completely, we've identified it and we've corrected it. I do think it's
important to remember, though, that engine fires happen when you fly a
high-performance aircraft. This isn't the first aircraft that's had one and it
won't be the last.
I also think it's important to keep this particular fire in
context. The F-35 has now flown about 8,700 sorties and over 14,000 flight hours.
This is the first time we've had a major engine fire. We inspected every other
engine in our fleet and we didn't find any with the same level of wear and tear
in the area that failed in the mishap engine. I'm confident that the program
will remain on track and that we'll reach IOC by December 2016. This fire is not
going to affect that.
Our Air Force refueling fleet is the lifeblood of U.S.
military global response capability. It's also older than almost everyone in
this room. The KC-46 Pegasus is another top operational imperative for the joint
force. The 179 aircraft we will fill between 2016 and 2028 will bring more
refueling capacity, improved efficiency, increased cargo and air medical
evacuation capability to both our Air Force and to the joint warfighting team.
The first test aircraft is schedule to fly this fall. Boeing
continues to live up to the terms they committed to. They've met every
contractual requirement to date. Those of you who follow the program saw
Boeing's recent announcement of a change -- excuse me -- a charge against the
program to correct a deficiency in the wiring system. The contractor will cover
those costs. There is no additional cost to the government.
We remain on track for all major program milestones and we
will continue to work very closely with the company to bring this great new
airplane online. Global reach is fundamental to our warfighting success in the
United States of America and Pegasus will make it reality for the next 40 years.
The long-range strike bomber is the third of our major
must-have programs. It will give our country the ability to hold any target on
earth at risk. It also gives us the ability to conduct extended air campaigns
and provides operational flexibility across a wide range of military operations.
LRSB will be a long-range, air-refuelable, highly survivable aircraft with
significant nuclear and conventional standoff and direct attack weapons payloads.
We plan to field 80 to 100 of them with initial operational
capability in the mid-2020s. It will be an adaptable and highly capable system
based upon mature technology. As I think you know, we've established an
achievable and stable set of requirements with a realistic target cost for this
airplane. We recently released a request for proposals and we expect a pretty
robust competition. Contract award is expected in spring of next year.
And while these acquisition programs are critical to our
success in the coming years, there's nothing more critical to our success than
the airmen who power this great Air Force. This is a tough time for some of
those airmen. We're asking great men and women who've done everything their
nation asked of them in some pretty tough places to involuntarily leave our Air
Force. There is nothing good or easy about this.
Both Secretary James and I have a responsibility to balance
our force to a size that we can afford to train and operate. And we need to do
it before we return to sequester levels of funding in F.Y. '16 if the existing
law continues to take us there. We submitted an F.Y. '15 budget that reduces the
number of active duty airmen from 330,000 this year to just 307,000 within five
Our force management actions that have been held during the
course of this year have already approved about 13,400 airmen for voluntary
separation and over 6,000 for involuntary separation. These airmen will leave
our Air Force by the spring of next year.
Air Force budget proposals are still being debated by the
Congress. And so we're not sure whether or not we'll be allowed to divest force
structure next year. Those force structure decisions have personnel
implications. So our final decisions can't be made until those final decisions
are made by the Congress. So it's difficult to tell exactly where we will end up
in the short term.
But as we promised our airmen, we have done and are doing
everything we can to maximize voluntary separation programs prior to
implementing involuntary measures, but that won't make it any easier for those
chosen under the involuntary process. We will do everything in our power to ease
the transition back into civilian life for those airmen and their families and
we thank them for their service.
I'd like to finish by saying that our airmen will meet the
challenges we face head-on and they'll overcome them. They're really magic. They
will continue to be the best in the world at what they do and they inspire
Secretary James and I every day to try and do the same.
Thanks again for being here and we'd love to take your
Question: Thank you. question
for either of you about the strategic framework document you're publishing today.
In the section where it discusses deterrence, it says that
the nuclear weapons infrastructure must be recapitalized where necessary, and
should be modernized when needed. And that just strikes me as a sort of a
non-committal statement. I'm wondering whether you actually feel it's necessary
and needed, and how will you afford it?
Secretary James: So, I'll start,
and then maybe, Chief, you jump in. But I think we do need to modernize it. It's
a question of when. And we are doing (inaudible) of that ourselves within the
Air Force Budget. Of course, we're, you know, going through the next POM cycle
-- the beginnings of it.
We're also in discussions with OSD. Both the secretary, the
deputy secretary -- they're extremely interested in this area, as well. And a
point that I continue to make -- and I believe there's agreement on this point
-- that this is a national asset. So, it's not just an Air Force issue per se,
it's a national asset. And, therefore, it's an issue for all of it -- for all of
us. And so, I think, as you see, when we work through this process -- obviously,
we'll have more to share in the months to come -- but I would suspect, you are
going to see more money put into modernization.
Question: And a follow-up? When
you mention it's a "national mission," are you saying that the Air Force should
have a bigger piece of the pie -- the budget pie, as a result of that?
Secretary James: So, what --
what we're doing, of course, is, we're trying to explain the total picture of
our Air Force and some of the strains that I talked to you about. So, this will
all get figured out in the next several months. But we do feel that additional
monies could well be in order, because this is such an important national asset.
General Welsh: Ma'am, if I could
add -- about the -- the document that we're releasing today is part A, if you
will, of three documents that will form our overall Air Force Strategy. This is
the call to the future piece, the one that keeps us moving forward, that pulls
us in a -- a direction of those principles, that conduct, that behavior that we
think we have to have to be successful as an institution.
The next piece is the Air Force Master Plan. So, we will take
the 12 existing core function master plans, consolidate them into a single
master plan. That master plan should have the detail you're looking for. And
their work will be driven by the words you just read, that say if we're going to
have this as a mission, we need to make sure the infrastructure is capable of
doing the job, and supports the airmen who are conducting the mission. That
should show up in the Master Plan.
The third piece of this is a 10-year balanced budget that we
will renew every year so that we can actually over time create consistency
across mission areas from a call to the future that we update every four years,
a -- a master plan that is resource-bound at a 20-year rate, 'cause we spend
things for 20 years. And then a 10-year balanced budget. And each year, we hope
that will provide consistency in message, consistency in funding, and over time,
build trust with the people we have to have trust with to get consistent,
dependable investment in those programs that have to be maintained, upgraded,
recapitalized, like our nuclear infrastructure.
Does that make sense?
Question: Thank you.
General Welsh: Yes, sir.
Question: Yeah, hi, sir.
James Drew, Inside the Air Force
You -- you're wanting to start the nuclear enterprise at 100
percent, and -- and pump a lot more money into it. How do you -- how do you say
to one section of your force that you can be staffed at 100 percent, whereas
those same staffing requirements are needed probably across the enterprise?
General Welsh: Mm-hmm.
Secretary James: So -- so, my
answer to that is, we can't do everything. And, therefore, we have to have some
clear priorities. And nuclear is number one. And people need to understand that.
And so, that is precisely why we're shifting resources and we're shifting
personnel. The personnel aren't all there on station yet, but they'll be coming.
And there are eight what we consider critical specialties within the career
field, and they have got to be staffed at 100 percent. So, that -- that is the
I will tell you also, in our Air Force, we staff at 100
percent level our overseas forces. So, that's also very critical, because, again,
they're tip of the spear, and the nuclear is considered tip of the spear, as
General Welsh: Part of this also
has to be a very hard look in the mirror at how we do business -- and every
mission area, to include the nuclear business. Because if the requirement for
people can be reduced by getting smarter about how we do the job without putting
the mission or safety or security at risk, we can actually free up resources to
use in other places again. That's a part of this process that's ongoing now.
Question: And could I just
follow up with that?
General Welsh: Mm-hmm.
Question: Just on the
actual technology side -- you mentioned hypersonics. And I know you've had a
briefing on this recently. How important will that technology be in feeding into
a possible replacement for the minuteman?
General Welsh: Hypersonic the
kind of the big picture for me is speed compresses kill chains. Real speed
really compresses kill chains and reduces the enemy's decision time. For our
warfighting force, that's an important concept. Anything we can do to speed up
the effects we want to create is a good thing, whatever domain we operate in. I
don't think hypersonics in the near term will impact the ICBM modernization that
we're looking at. My personal opinion.
Secretary James: Yeah, and I was
going to simply say, I think it's too early to tell.
Question: Thank you very much.
I'd like to ask you about propulsion, so please bear with me
as I get to the question. As a result of the situation in Russia, there has been
sort of a systemwide reaction to some of the decisions that were made that led
us to the RD-180 situation now. Some people in the national security framework
say, you know, we should have implemented some of the contingencies that were on
Now, however, you've got an F-35 situation with one engine
and this far into development, where we're told we're doing very well in flight
testing, we're halfway through development on flight testing, you've got a fleet
grounded. So, how do you reconcile the lesson from RD-180, which granted, was
not performance, it's supply, with the challenges that could be faced with
having one engine for an entire allied Air Force?
Secretary James: Take a first
cut at that.
General Welsh: Would you say
your last sentence again?
Question: Probably not verbatim,
but yes. So, how do you rectify the lessons from the RD-180 experience, which
realizes that's not a performance issue, it's a supply issue, but essentially,
you could be cut off, with the situation you now face with F-35, which whether
it's a performance issue or a supply issue, right now you're facing a
performance issue: the entire fleet's grounded. You're going to have 10, 11
Allied nations relying on this propulsion system. Is there a lesson from RD-180
that should be put on F-35.
Secretary James: So, OK, I think
I understand a little bit better, so maybe I'll take the first cut.
General Welsh: Sure.
Secretary James: If that's all
General Welsh: Have at it boss.
Secretary James: OK. So -- so
first of all, maybe just big picture. Bear with me while I hopefully get to the
-- answer your question, but sort of the big picture on Russia.
Obviously, you know, we, the United States, we are standing
firm with NATO. We're working with our allies. I was just over there in the U.K.,
so this was extremely important topic that I talked with a number of people
about, so people are monitoring the situation with Russia, receiving -- it's
receiving attention at the highest levels. There's diplomatic overtures and
sanctions, and you're all aware of that.
I think everybody is aware that we have proposed, as part of
the European -- what we call the European Reassurance Initiative, additional
monies for additional rotational forces, exercises, and different, I'll say
engagement activities so that our presence, the presence of our NATO allies, is
very much felt there. So, all of that is going forward.
Now, with respect to the RD-180, as you said, at the moment,
we're heavily reliant on it for our space launch program, and our desire is to
get off of that reliance, as soon as we can. Right now there has been no
interruption in the supply, despite tweets to the contrary at one point. And we
do have a two year stockpile. So, what we're doing is we're working through our
options on how we will get off of that reliance, and we've got, you know, near
term and long term things that -- that we're looking at, depending on how world
conditions go. So, for example, you know, speeding up the purchase of the Delta.
So, that is an American-produced engine. It happens to be more expensive, but
that certainly is an option for us. We're working to get the -- the new
entrants. One new entrant at the moment is getting close, and we're working
diligently, putting our resources, our money, our people against that
certification process. So, that's coming along.
And we're trying to figure out how we would do a new -- a new
engine. So, you know, could it be a public-private partnership, is it a full up
government program? We're working through all of that, and would expect to have,
you know, more to say on that in the -- in the coming months.
Now, with respect to the engine in the F-35, the entire fleet
is -- is not grounded. The fleet is flying again. It's got limitations. I think
we expect those limitations will gradually be eased up. It's not unusual in a
development program to have something like this happen. It's happened before. I
think we're all very optimistic that we will be working through it, and so I do
not see, and the chief said the same thing I believe, that this is in any way a
show-stopper. It's -- it was unfortunate that it happened, but they're going
through and trying to narrow down the root cause, and we will work through it.
So, that would be the way I -- I don't see the two as particularly similar, and
I think we're going to work through both. It's just going to take us a little
General Welsh: Yeah, I think it
would be a little alarmist to assume we have a problem with the F-35 engine.
Pratt & Whitney's been making pretty darn good engines for single engine
airplanes for a long time for the United States Air Force. I've got a lot of
time myself using them and flying in airplanes that have them. And I think what
we found in the program so far with these, you know, almost 9,000 sorties now is
this engine works pretty well, too. That day, it didn't, and we have to figure
Question: And if I may ask a
follow up, do you feel that the decision to get rid of the F-136 was premature?
Would you like to have an alternative engine if you could?
General Welsh: I would like to
have 1,763 F-35s with an engine that works really well every single day. That's
Let's go in the back.
Question: Thank you.
So, looking at this document, there's about a paragraph
dedicated to unmanned systems. Spending on unmanned systems was out in the most
recent budget, but what's odd is that spending on armed drones around the world
is actually up. There's very few countries right now that have them, but
according to RAND, there's 23 countries that currently have a program in
developing armed drones.
So, in thinking about the Air Force of the year 2025 and
beyond, how do you respond to criticism from like Michael Horowitz and other
scholars who say the U.S. is over investing on very expensive manned systems
while the rest of the world is getting more bang for their buck out of next
generation, more autonomous, more lethal, unmanned systems?
General Welsh: I'll give you a
personal opinion on this one. First of all, in -- when you're talking about
being in battle space, where people are fighting and dying, there is a sensor we
haven't figured out how to replicate yet, and that's the one that sits on your
shoulders. And the situational awareness it gives you to conduct activity in
that battle space is unlike anything else we have been able to cobble together
up to this point.
If we are ever able to replicate that, I think the game
changes. Until we are, I think you have to put unmanned systems in the mission
areas where it makes sense to have unmanned systems, because they're better at
that job. I don't think, at this point in time, they're better at every job.
You know, we still have less than 10 percent of our total fleet is remotely
piloted aircraft, so it's not like they're taking over at the moment, and we've
got to be very careful going forward not to assume that they will in every
mission area. We will continue to expand this mission area. We'll continue to
use it where it makes sense, but we've got to take it a little bit slow and not
get our ideas way out ahead of the technology we have.
By the way, one of the guys who makes sure we don't do that,
I just noticed that David was sitting here in the room. Master Sergeant David
Keirns just sitting in the back row, he is the 2014 Air Force Times airman of
the year, so I just wanted to point him out to you and ask you to say hi if you
get a chance. He's a great airman stationed at Rota Air Force Base. He's a C-17
engine guy. Maybe he could build a new launch platform for something. He can
probably build anything.
Yes sir, John?
Question: Yes sir.
Your title here is "Strategic Agility," and you talk in here
about taking advantage of pivot points. The lesson though of acquisition
programs in the last few years seems to be don't change the requirements,
because that causes a lot of expense. So, how do you reconcile the two? Are you
going to have more frequent overhauls of the program? How do you take advantage
of new technologies as they come along without changing the requirements,
changing the technology insertion?
Secretary James: Our best
opportunity for this, of course, are in the new programs, the existing programs.
They are what they are, and we have to do the best that we can do with the
architectures and whatnot that have been developed over the years. But when it
comes to the new programs, to the extent we build in modularity, open
architectures and the like, this is ways that we can, I'll say plug in different
types of capability, different types of technology, as technology changes
through the years.
So, that's the idea. The idea is more to inform some of our
future programs. We'll just simply need to do, you know, the best that we can do
with the strategies that have been created for the existing programs in the past.
General Welsh:It's also within
existing programs, I think, you look for pivot points. So we -- we're talking
about propulsion. Let me use an example there. If the advanced engine technology
demonstrator program proves that you can in fact create systems that save you
anywhere between 30 and 45 percent of fuel costs, then we should be building
into every fleet we have decision points for implementing that new technology in
engine competitions to replace existing engines, because it will pay for itself
very quickly. I just think we have to be able to take advantage of things as
they change. It may not be a major mission area change overnight, but we should
look for it at every level of our activity.
Question: If I could follow up,
what's coming up that you can work your new paradigm on? What kind of programs
are coming up that will reflect these new -- new ideas?
Secretary James: So, we have a
JSTARS replacement, we have a new trainer that will be coming up upon us within
the next few years. So, those two definitely leap to mind.
Question: Luis Martinez
with ABC News. Can I ask about the recent incident in Africa, (inaudible)
Ramstein, with the C-130 that returned from a tour there? Do you have any new
developments on the stowaway, and did that incident raise red flags to both of
you about the security for your aircraft when they're seasoned? Does this go
toward the readiness issue that you're both talking about?
General Welsh: Yeah, I think it
raised security flags for everybody involved. U.S. Africa Command has command
and control and responsibility for that airplane while it's in the AOR. U.S.
European Command obviously has the crew, wants to make sure the crews are
trained properly in how to do this.
The latest I've heard about the incident itself is that U.S.
European Command now -- now has told us that the young man died of asphyxiation,
and that they believe there are indications that he boarded, entered, I don't
know how you would phrase this, but he got on the plane in Mali. I don't know if
he is from Mali or not. All we know is that they think -- believe he got on
board the airplane in Mali.
The only other thing is that he was discovered on a
post-mission inspection, which is a little more detailed inspection of the
airplane than a routine post-flight or through flight as an airplane lands, gets
gas, and turns. The crew chiefs would go out and check inside the wheel well et
cetera. He was not in a position he could be seen from there. In fact, they had
to remove an outside fuselage panel to remove his body.
And so, how he got in there is a huge question mark, and U.S.
Africa Command and the EUCOM will conduct this investigation when we have facts
as they find them, we'll share them. But we don't know anything more right now.
Question: And to go as far as
the readiness issue, I mean, is this one of the things you're talking about full
spectrum, that there might be shortfalls across the board?
Secretary James: Well, I would
say it's full-spectrum security. As the chief said, it's the question of what
was the security, what are the standard protocols for this sort of thing,
because obviously whatever happened here, something fell through the cracks that
his boy was able to gain access to the aircraft.
Question: Andrea Shalal with
I wanted to sort of pick up on Amy's question and your point
about the pivot points, and being able to be more agile in your decisionmaking.
I mean, I guess there's no point in asking about water under the bridge, but do
you now, looking back on it, think that it was a mistake to create and put so
much faith into a program like the F-35 that has three variants, three, you
know, very complex challenges?
And to what extent are you able to, going forward, create
opportunities for more -- to insert more competition both in sustainment and,
you know, potentially a new engine, I mean, you know, all those things as they
go along, because you're going to be flying this for so many years?
I mean, so I guess this is sort of, like, you know, looking
back, looking forward question.
General Welsh: I think what's
important at the end of any program is you can start to feel the program. You
should learn everything you can learn from the process that got you from the
idea to the actual production line. I think we've learned an awful lot from
F-35. We've learned some good lessons, and we've learned some things that we
might consider doing differently in the future, and the important thing, I think,
is to not look back and be critical. It's to figure out what does it mean about
the way forward?
And I think this idea of strategic agility in everything we
do is one of the lessons we are learning from this.
The problem on the acquisition side of the house is that we
aren't the only ones involved in the process, and the process has to become more
agile. I think all of us would agree with that. Everybody involved would agree
with that, but how you get there from here is the problem. That's why this is a
30-year document. This isn't going to change overnight, but this is something
that should, in everything we do in our master plan, as we look at how we move
forward with acquisitions process, acquisition strategy, and development of
programs, we should consider this idea of how to become more agile consistently
and constantly over time, and it's got to include all the partners to do this
Question: Can I just follow up?
General Welsh: Yes ma'am.
Question: One of the big
criticisms early on was the way that this incident was handled, and the
inability of some of the key players, i.e. the JPO and the engine manufacturer
to actually get access to the aircraft and to be able to start that process
You know, do you -- are you -- what are you doing about that
to sort of save that from -- or prevent that from happening again?
General Welsh:Yeah, I have a
little bit different view of that, just so you know. The problem with an
accident scene is someone has to be accountable instantly for making sure you
control the evidence. That's really important in any kind of major safety
investigation. That's the first responsibility of the interim safety board
president, who is appointed as soon as the incident occurred. They taped off the
area, they began isolating evidence fields so they wouldn't be destroyed, pieces
wouldn't be lost. So, the evidence that would help you determine the problem
isn't affected in a negative way.
It takes about a day-and-a-half to get the full-time board president on-board at
the site and then have experts start to show up to help form the board. That's
actually very fast. And it happened about that quickly this time. In fact,
something happened that normally doesn't happen this time, and that is on the
morning of the second day, General Rand at AETC approved for the interim safety
board president to have the flight recorders removed from the airplane before
the safety board arrived.
Because until that data is available, trying to piece
together what happened is virtually impossible unless there's just some very
clear visual evidence of exactly what the root cause was. And so that was
actually removed from the airplane and sent to the contractor the second day,
which is way, way ahead of a normal timeline.
The confusion got to be what we had not done is put together
among the three services and the Department of Defense an agreement that if we
had a serious incident, we were going to bring representatives from all the
right places together to be part of the process so everyone would have access to
the key data quickly so they could make flights or, you know, air-worthy
certification decisions so the engine company could have the data to start
working the root cause analysis so that the JPO could have the information to
know exactly how it affected their test program.
People from all those organizations were there at Eglin.
They're there all the time. And they were actually there with the interim safety
board, but nobody really knew who was officially the connection to the Navy or
the Marine Corps or the JPO. And so we have to put together an MOU. We're
working it now among the services and in the department. So next time this
happens, there's a very quick response and everybody knows exactly who is
authorized, who can get information, how quickly, how are we going to manage it.
We'll fix it. This won't happen again.
Oh, I'm sorry.
Secretary James: No, you go
General Welsh: Yes, ma'am?
Question: A year ago, we were
being told about the problems in the readiness of the Air Force; half the combat
force was not ready to fly. And so it was a big crisis at the time. Now,
Secretary James, you said now Congress is potentially going to eat into your --
take money out of your readiness account to pay for these other programs and
potentially sequestration is going to be back in 2016.
So are we going to be back to that place where half the force
was not going to be ready to fly? Or what kind of measures are you taking now to
prevent that and what options do you have?
Secretary James: So, of course, Congress hasn't completed its
work yet. And so the message that we are putting forth to Congress, and there
are people who are, you know, very, very interested in this, so please don't
misunderstand what I'm saying. But as Congress shifts priorities and decides
that, yes, this will happen, or no, that won't happen, they are working with the
same topline numbers under the Budget Control Act that of course we had to
So as they are doing this, what we're saying is please don't
carve money out of readiness, because readiness is too important to us and we
need to recapture some of that lost readiness, which by the way one year won't
allow us to recapture all of it.
I would also say certainly something that I have learned and
have a much greater appreciation for now seven months into my job is that there
-- there -- I'll just take flying as an example. There's flying and there's
flying. Flying is not quite like riding a bicycle. You can't stand down for
three months and totally get back into the cockpit and be able to do all of the
same capabilities with the same level of efficiencies.
You might be able to get back into the cockpit and fly the
plane, but there are very, very difficult maneuvers. This is very
high-technology equipment, which is why we put an emphasis on the full spectrum
of readiness training. This is the high-end difficult type of flying against
simulated threats that we could face in some of the most difficult parts of the
And so it's particularly that type of flying that we -- that
we feel like we've got to have more of, we've got to focus on that. And so these
are the messages that we're putting forth to Congress continually.
Question: So are we going to
have another crisis in a few months when sequestration hits again? Is that going
to be another half the force can't fly unless you get the money from Congress? I
mean, what are the -- what's your prediction of what might happen?
Secretary James: So, of course,
the law of the land right now says that the so-called sequestration level budget
will return in F.Y. '16. So we know what that means for defense. But we're in
discussions and it is quite possible that the president's budget request that
goes to Capitol Hill could be higher. We're not sure yet, but it could be.
And so in the most recent years, what we have done is we have
created several versions of budgets. That's what we did this past year, as you
will recall. We have a president's budget level and then we have a lower level.
And so I would predict we'll go through something like that again for the next
budget submission. We'll put forth what we feel we really need and then we'll
put forth if we had to live with it, here's how we would manage under
I saw Julian before.
Question: Thank you, Madam
Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. A question for you,
Secretary James, and a question for the general.
Secretary James, in your answer on the RD-180, it sounded
like you had a solution there: spend down the stockpile, build more deltas, use
SpaceX while you're developing a replacement engine. Is that correct? Are you
ready to do that? And why not do it now in order to put more pressure on the
And for the general, in your framework document, when you
think about agility, in your mind, is it more important for future airframes to
build them and design them more quickly -- build, design and field more quickly?
Or design platforms that can evolve over time and last 60 years? What -- what's
the future in your mind?
Secretary James: So, on RD-180,
there is no solutions yet. In my earlier answer, I was trying to paint the
picture of some of the options that are on the table. And I was also trying to
paint the picture that the situation with Russia is serious. We are, you know,
quite reliant on the RD-180, but we're not exclusively reliant.
And so -- so we have options here. And so we're taking some
time, not a huge amount of time, but some time to think through the way forward.
But if there's one underpinning that there is great agreement on is we don't
want to have this kind of reliance going forward on Russian engines. So we do
need to develop these alternatives.
General Welsh: I believe two
things, Julian. I think both are true. It depends on what you're building and
designing. But for example, platforms that we are -- have proven that we're
going to keep for long periods of time because they cost a lot of money, we
should design for longer life; insist on things like open architectures; and be
able to grow them over time, whether that's tankers, bombers, fighters that are
going to last 50 years, whatever it might be.
There's other things that we should look at -- more rapid
acquisition programs, things like weapons, things that have a shorter shelf-life
that we know are going to change and that we'll be looking for different
solutions for. I think it's a combination of the two. That's where the agility
comes in. We don't need to have the same process for everything.
Staff: Last question.
Question: Any update on the
General Welsh: Any update? No, sir, we're just -- Congress
has the inputs. They're doing their work.
Question: (inaudible) the A-10
(inaudible) effective platform against terrorism? You were a former A-10 driver.
General Welsh: It's a great
platform against lots of things. So are the other ones we have.
Question: And do you think
terrorism will go away in the next 10 years?
General Welsh: No, but the A-10
issue is not about the A-10. It's about balancing an Air Force to provide the
spectrum of missions we provide to a combatant commander. If I asked the
combatant commanders today, because I've done it, if you had $4 billion to spend,
would you prefer to keep the A-10 and have more CAS capability? Or would you
prefer to buy more ISR or other things? I now have a list of 15 things they'd
prefer us to spend the money on.
We don't buy our -- we don't make up our requirements. We
build and support the joint fight. The combatant commanders create the
requirement and we buy capability to support it.
Question: (inaudible) vital
platform for CAS and in fact units are fighting over in Afghanistan right now,
and we're probably going to be in these areas.
And Madam Secretary, there are critics who say we're not
withdrawing from war. You've said we're coming off 13 years of war. You said you
couldn't -- we couldn't predict Facebook. How do we know what the next 10, 20
years are going to be like? And will we still be engaged in war around the
world? If you look at Iraq, you look at Ukraine, look all over the world, we're
still going to be in these battles and more that's going to come.
Secretary James: So, and so my
answer to that would be it is possible we will need, after we wind down the
combat operations in Afghanistan, it is possible. As you say, we can't predict.
It's possible we could get into something else where we would need higher levels
of close air support in the next year or two or three.
And if that is the case, we've got it. We've got the F-16.
We've got the F-15E. The -- and there's other platforms as well. Additionally,
with respect to the A-10, this was designed to be a five-year gradual retirement
plan. So it's not as though we ever suggested that the A-10 go away overnight.
It was a more gradual thing.
So the close air support mission is a sacred mission. And we
General Welsh: Could we have one
more question? We have a very patient gentleman in the front row. But I want to
add one more comment here on the A-10.
The question is what do you want to give up instead.
sequestration is the issue. We have to come up with a plan that is $20 billion
less per year than the plan we had three years ago when we last did our last
full budget -- $20 billion a year. So if anyone else has got a solution that
balances Air Force capabilities across the mission areas we are responsible to
the combatant commanders for, we'd love to hear it. But we sure haven't found it
Yes, sir? And thanks for your patience.
Question: Thank you. Sean
Lyngaas, Federal Computer Week.
Can you -- either of you elaborate on what this strategic
framework says about the services aspirations in cyberspace? What capabilities
or technologies are you lacking now that you might like to acquire in the next
-- over the next months and years? And as a corollary, what the -- the Air Force
recently put out a RFP, or a request for -- for papers on the moving target
defense command and control capability. I'm wondering what that says about your
goals in cyberspace, too.
Secretary James: Can you do it?
General Welsh: Yes, ma'am.
Let me go to the bigger piece. Let me answer the second part
first, because I don't know anything about it. I -- I don't know what it means
about our goals. I'm not familiar with the details of the papers we put out the
request for, other than I know we put out a white papers asking for information
on it. That didn't come through my office. I don't know what we're looking for
exactly. But we can find out more about that, and I'll see if I can give you a
better answer, and we'll get it back to you.
On the -- what -- as far as the framework document goes, what
it really calls for is for us to get our act together, and how -- what we're
going to do in the cyber domain in the future.
We are making a big change in cyber from an Air Force
perspective, from a group of technologies that grew up supporting very focused
-- very narrowly focused technical support to human operations. That's where
cyber began. And there's lot of organizations in our government who do that.
They do it very well.
The Air Force and air component commanders are worried about
big effects on big battlefields, because our job is to fight the big fight. So,
how do we reshape our thinking in the Air Force to think about executing the
five core missions that are our only job? There's only five of them. How do we
get to doing more of those jobs in the multiple domains that the secretary
mentioned? How do we do more ISR in and through the cyber domain -- more command
and control, more strike of different types? What kind of targets now open up to
us, and what effects can we now produce that we couldn't before? That's the
change the Air Force needs to make in the cyber domain.
Make it mainstream to the five core missions of our Air
Force, as opposed to a kind of a niche capability with really talented people
doing it behind the green door. That's what this is calling us to figure out how
Question: And a quick follow-up
then. With your budget constraints, are you fighting hard to preserve that --
some funding for cyber, in particular?
General Welsh: I think -- I
think the funding that we have in there now is pretty stable. There's no intent
to pull it out of that domain. And so, we have to become experts in that domain,
just like I believe we've become experts in the other two.
Secretary James: And if you
remember, one of the things I said -- this is a framework that is designed to
inform us and guide us when we're making our money and policy choices. So, as we
go forward, if there are suggestions to cut cyber, I think we have a pretty good
reason not to.
Thank you all very much.
General Welsh: Thank you.
Staff: Thank you. And any
follow-ups, you can contact the Air Force press desk. We'd be more than happy to
Question: Thank you.
General Welsh: Thank you.