National Press Club

Air Force chief describes budget constraints at National Press Club Breakfast

April 23, 2014 | By Lorna Aldrich | lorna2@verizon.net

Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh answered several questions regarding the use of remotely-piloted aircraft, or drones, during a National Press Club Breakfast on April 23, 2014. Referring to drones, Welsh declared that we are at the Wright Brothers’ Flyer stage of understanding this technology.

Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh answered several questions regarding the use of remotely-piloted aircraft, or drones, during a National Press Club Breakfast on April 23, 2014. Referring to drones, Welsh declared that we are at the Wright Brothers’ Flyer stage of understanding this technology.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh described his service's adjustments to budget constraints under sequestration at an April 23 National Press Club Breakfast.

The Air Force fiscal year 2015 budget is $20 billion less than projected in 2012, requiring significant adjustment, not just making changes "around the edges," Welsh said.

Welsh focused on the decision to eliminate the entire fleet of A-10 fighter planes, saying that cutting a whole fleet was more effective than partially reducing several because cutting a whole fleet saves infrastructure costs.

Cutting the A-10 saves $4.2 billion and was better than "other horrible options," Welsh said. He termed the decision analytical, not emotional.

The Air Force is doing all that it can to find the balance between being able to do the nation's business today and being capable of doing it 10 years from now, Welsh said.

"The demand for what the Air Force supplies is on the rise, unfortunately the supply is going in the other direction," Welsh said.

Welsh explained the Air Force by quoting an analogy to the light switch on the wall. You don't think about what's behind the wall and you don't ask whether the light will come on, he said.

When planes are needed for an air lift or strike halfway around the world, "The question can we get it there is never asked," Welsh said.

Of the 130,00 members of the Air Force, Welsh said "My guys are good."

Welsh emphasized the need for "strategic flexibility" as situations change. He noted that the whole system supporting remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA), commonly known as drones, had to be built "on the fly" during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He pointed out that RPAs have many people behind them. According to him, 97 to 98 percent of their use is for intelligence.

Welsh distinguished between situations in which RPAs are best suited and those requiring people on the battlefield. If surveillance over a long period of time is required, he thinks an RPA is better; if a split-second decision on the battlefield is needed, he thinks a person is better.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars did not change the role of the Air Force but impelled it to get better, Welsh said. He cited the improvement in tactical air drops; the Air Force could now drop something to land "on this head table," he said. He noted the improved speed and ability of getting injured to trauma centers.

Welsh reported that every commander in the Air Force has access to a trained prosecutor to advise him or her on handling sexual-harassment cases. He termed changes in discussion of the issue in the Air Force in the last few years "palpable," but said celebration would only be in order if the rate of incidents were zero. He believes sexual harassment "starts with lack of respect for the individual." The respect his mother created for him and five sisters form his attitude toward the issue, he said.

"I love Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D, N.Y.) passion on this issue," Welsh said, even if he doesn't always agree with her.