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Welsh Discusses Air Force Capabilities, Missions

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2014 – The core missions of the Air Force have not changed since the service was established in 1947, but how airmen perform those missions has and will continue to change, the Air Force chief of staff said today.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said that the service has added one thing to the missions it first received from President Harry S Truman in 1947.

“Instead of air superiority, we [today] say air and space superiority,” Welsh said. “I don’t think the president had that space thing figured out back then.”

The Air Force’s other missions are to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; rapid global mobility; global strike; and command and control. Welsh said the missions are the same but the domains have expanded. For example, the service started operating in the air domain. It now operates in space and the cyber world.

Welsh said one of his biggest frustrations arises during budget discussions, when the service chiefs talk of carrier battle groups and brigade combat teams and fighter and bomber squadrons.

“The Air Force has a whole lot more going on than fighter and bomber squadrons,” he said. “In fact, most of what we are doing day to day is not fighter and bomber squadrons that are visible to the combatant commander.”

Welsh said people treat these capabilities like they do a light switch in a room. When folks enter a room they unconsciously turn on the light. They don’t think about what it takes for the light to go on.

“In areas like ISR, you have no idea that 35,000 people are doing ISR today in support of combatant commanders all over the world,” he said.

It’s the same with airlift, Welsh said. “We have 130,000 airmen doing airlift every day -- 600 sorties per day,” he said. “The one question I have never heard asked in a policy or in a contingency discussion in the Tank -- not once have I heard anybody ask, ‘Can we get it there?’”

Precision navigation and timing is crucial to global strike, and this mission has 25,000 airmen on it every day around the world, the Air Force leader said.

“The same thing for two legs of the [nuclear] triad,” Welsh said. Until there is a problem with manned bombers or intercontinental missiles, “you don’t hear a thing about it,” he added.

All these capabilities take money, time, resources, people, said Welsh, noting such capabilities are “part of what makes our Air Force, the best Air Force in the world.”

“But every time you hear a briefing about DOD capabilities there is one word, on one slide that captures all that -- enablers,” he said. “Those enablers are the main stream of the business we do day to day.”

There are 220,000 airmen who support combatant commanders each day, Welsh said.

“They are not bombing things, they are collecting data, they are doing command and control, they are moving people around the planet,” he said. “It’s critical to national defense.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS

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Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III

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