Welsh: Sequestration Harms
Aging, Shrinking Air Force
By Amaani Lyle, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. – (DoD
News) – February 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
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
"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
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)
Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III
Special Report: Sequestration
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