James, Welsh Testify Before
By Senior Airman Hailey Haux,
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information.
Washington D.C. — (AFNS)
— March 4, 2016 — The Air Force’s top two senior leaders testified before the
House Appropriations Committee on Defense March 2 and the Senate Armed Services
Committee March 3.
Lee James and AFCS Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testify before the
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of
Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III attested to the critical need of readiness. With
less than half of the Air Force’s combat forces prepared for a high-end fight,
the senior leaders agreed adjustments need to be made to support the changing
world and combatant commanders’ requirements.
“We are now proposing to re-phase the retirement of the A-10
(Thunderbolt II) and the (EC-130H) Compass Call aircraft,” James said. “The
bottom line here is we are not proposing to retire any of these aircraft in
(fiscal year 2017). We do believe that we will need to divest these weapons
systems in the future, but this (year’s change) will maintain a sufficient
number of fighter and electronic attack aircraft across the force in support of
Readiness isn’t only about the aircraft, it has to do with
the force as a whole and the quality of life plays a role in ensuring Airmen are
focused on doing their job. One area which has caught the attention of senior
leaders is the remotely piloted aircraft community.
“The explosion in people, platforms and resources that
constitute this community; the medium altitude (intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance) community since 2001 has been stunning,” Welsh said. “So has the
volume and the quality of the work they have done in the battlefield.
“Because the mission area grew so rapidly, we have never
gotten ahead of the training curve and each year, more pilots were leaving the
remotely piloted aircraft force than we were able to train to go into it,” he
With a “Get Well Plan” in place, the RPA community is slated
to train an additional 384 pilots by the end of fiscal 2017.
“No Airman joins the service to get wealthy, but the unmanned
aviation bonuses and incentive payments you have appropriated (helps) us with
recruitment and retention,” Welsh said. “But on their own, they aren’t enough.
If we don’t fix quality of life for our RPA operators and their families, they
won’t stay in the Air Force, so we are committed to fixing it.”
Over the course of the year, the Air Force will not only be
growing the size of the RPA enterprise, it will also see a modest increase of
the total force from 311,000 to 317,000 Airmen.
“In reality, in our opinion, we believe mission demands in
FY17 are going to require us to likely grow more,” James said. “To meet these
demands, I plan to take a judicious approach to incrementally increase our total
force beyond the current levels, provided we can attract the right talent.”
Attracting and keeping a diverse group of Airmen is an
objective of senior leaders throughout the Air Force. They aim to keep Airmen is
by increasing incentives, particularly for pilots.
“Each year we hope to retain about 65 percent of the pilots
who are eligible to separate,” Welsh said. “One of the major tools we use in
that retention effort is aviation retention pay. While we can’t reasonably
expect to stop the outflow; we’re doing everything in our power to mitigate it
and to convince those pilots on the fence to stay with us.”
While senior leaders continue to highlight the need for
advancements in the service’s readiness and modernization, the Air Force is
working hard with coalition partners across the globe.
“The Air Force remains engaged in every region of the world,
in every mission area, and across the full spectrum of military operation,”
James said. “We have never been busier on such a sustained, global basis.”