CAPITOL HILL: Gen. Mark Welsh, the next Air Force Chief of Staff, admitted that the service’s fiscal 2013 budget was “simply not executable” in the face of Congressional opposition over cuts to the Air National Guard. Welsh vowed to work with Congress, the Guard, and governors “so we never end up here again.”
Welsh also said the Air Force would not withdraw the nine Block 30 Global Hawk drones now in use by the Central, Pacific, and European Commands — a decision he attributed to the current chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz. The House had voted against the Air Force’s plans to retire the Block 30s, but the Senate had not taken a stand, and until recently the service had been sticking with plans to bring the nine deployed aircraft back to the US to be mothballed. Keeping the drones flying is another sign of Air Force deference to Congress.
It’s the Guard cuts, however, that have inspired the most ire on Capitol Hill. “With the ’13 budget request… we’ve gotten into a position where we have a proposal that’s simply not executable,” Welsh said.
“What matters the most today is how we move forward,” he went on. “However, we move forward it has to be together…. There needs to be a more inclusive [consultation] process on the budget, clearly — we’ve learned that this year.” The Air Force will strive to fully include the state governors and Guard commanders (adjutants-general) in future budget decisionmaking from the start, he said.
Gen. Welsh also spoke a cautionary note on the Pentagon’s biggest procurement program, the F-35. “I’m excited about the F-35 because I believe the nation needs it,” he declared, but at the same time, “I am concerned about the program” both because of the funding cuts imposed from without as part of the deficit-reduction package and because of the internal management problems.
“We have not been able to build and deliver jets on schedule or at an accurately predicted cost,” Welsh warned. “If we cannot clearly identify what this airplane costs to buy and to fly … we have no idea how many we can afford.” That requires relentless pressure to keep costs down and stable, including pressure on contractor Lockheed Martin, he said, and as Chief, “That would be a daily event for me.”