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Airmen Excel in ‘Invisible Mission,’ Chief of Staff Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2014 – The biggest frustration for airmen is that most people don't know what they do, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said today.

"Your airmen are very proud of who they are. They're incredibly proud of what they do, and they're incredibly good at doing it," Welsh said during a speech at the National Press Club.

The day-to-day work of the Air Force is largely invisible, he said. "But we have, for example, 600 strategic airlift sorties flying every single day around the world. That's one every two and a half minutes, every hour of every day of the year. We have almost 130,000 airmen who make that happen -- moving people and equipment around the world."

Welsh said that while conducting planning in the nation’s capital, the question of "Can we get it there?" never comes up.

"Never even heard it whispered," the general said, noting that this was a compliment to the reliability of the work of U.S. airmen.

"They're just kind of in the background, making things happen every single day," he said.

But, Welsh said, budget cuts mean that while the demand for Air Force capabilities is on the rise, the supply is in decline.

"It's taking capability or capacity away from combatant commanders -- things that they believe they need, and things that we would like to provide, but just won't be able to in the future, because we have to be part of the solution for the nation to the budget deficit. We got that."

The Air Force is reducing capability in all of its core mission areas and cutting modernization programs by 50 percent, he said.

"We're protecting a couple of key programs that we think we have to recapitalize -- the KC-46 [Pegasus] tanker, the F-35 [Lighting II joint strike fighter] and the long-range strike bomber, … so that we have a viable Air Force 10 years from now," Welsh said.

The service is doing everything it can to balance today's readiness with tomorrow's capability, he added.

Three years ago, the projected budget for the Air Force was $20 billion a year more than it will be under sequestration, the general said. Even with the relief provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the Air Force must still make "significant" adjustments to its planning, he said.

"Trimming around the edges as we put together a budget proposal just wasn't going to work," Welsh said.

After considering a variety of money-saving options throughout the fleet, the general said, the Air Force determined cutting the A-10 Thunderbolt II would save $4.2 billion and would have the least impact on operations.

"That pays for half our flying hours each year," Welsh said.

Divesting the A-10 fleet makes sense from a military perspective, "if you have to make these kinds of [budget] cuts,” he explained.

"Nobody likes it," Welsh said. "This is not about the A-10 not being a great airplane [or] not doing great work. It's about where can we take operational risk going forward, where can we create savings and how can we start transitioning the Air Force into thinking about the threat in the environment we will have to operate in 10 years from now. The A-10 will not be part of that solution in a high-threat environment."

The cuts are painful, the general added, but "the balance is pretty delicate. The cuts are real. The issues are serious. And they deserve serious consideration."

The Air Force has to change the way it does everything, he said. "What the budget is doing to us -- I mentioned we're cutting capability in every mission area -- it's eliminating our ability to have airplanes, systems, people who only operate in a single environment."

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter @rouloafps)

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Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III

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