AFA WINTER, ORLANDO, FLA.:  The Air Force has launched a major effort to craft a new strategy and new efforts to better plan how it will spend its money, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said today.

“The question for us now is, what is next? Is it strategic agility, cyber-centric operations, blended deterrence, all the above or some combination? I don’t know. Whatever it is, we’ve got to figure it out, and we’ve got to figure it out quick,” Welsh said, during a presentation to some 500 people attending the Air Force Association’s winter conference. New Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James was seated in the front row, listening to Welsh’s speech.

“We need a strategy. We’ve needed it for a while,” Welsh said. This one will look out 30 years. It will be “reviewed every two years and completely updated every four years,” he said. Welsh said he didn’t know what the strategy would look like.

The service is also engaged in a 20-year resource plan designed to take multiple master plans already done by the Air Force and integrate them into a single Air Force master plan. “It’s going to be really important for us because it allows us to make strategic trades across our portfolios,” he told the AFA audience. And you could almost hear the industry folks sit up a little straighter when Welsh said this: “We are going to predict what our toplines are going to be for 20 years and we’re going to tie our own hands and try and stay within them.”

This raises the prospect of an Air Force master budget designed for 20 years. While it certainly won’t be binding on Congress, it may set a precedent for both the Air Force and the three other services. Below that will sit a series of so-called flight plans or master plans for such things as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), bombers, fighters and human capital.  That will be reviewed every year and updated every two years.

He also announced a reorganization of Air Force headquarters budget and strategy offices to improve the service’s ability to build budgets and to make decisions.

Later in the speech, Welsh committed the Air Force to begin the early work on a sixth generation fighter, something his immediate predecessors had resisted. “And folks: it’s time to start working on the sixth gen fighter. Nobody wants to hear that, but we have to,” Welsh said.

Boeing F-X1 Sixth generation fighter concept

Boeing’s early conception of a sixth generation fighter, the F-X1.


  • ELP

    6th gen price. Doesn’t work. $1B unit cost. Marketing at the AFA by the dear leader. I guess he had to say something besides all the news of throwing people out en masse to pay for the Just So Failed. USAF has some core, vacant, areas in air power leadership. Remember, this guy wants to get rid of….wait for it….the KC-10… a true, workhorse large-body tanker…again to pay for other areas that bring nothing to the fight like the non-functional F-35.

    • Don Bacon

      Let’s not dwell on past and current mistakes, such as the behind-schedule, over-budget, poorly performing F-35 system which is by far the most expensive acquisition program in history, the question for us now is, what is next? /s

      • bridgebuilder78

        What’s next?

        Concurrency 2.0 and pawning off land and natural resources to the Chinese.

  • CharleyA

    Let the Navy develop the “6th Gen” aircraft (F/A-XX,) then force it down the throat of the Air Force – see how they like that. Although it did work out with the F-4…

  • PolicyWonk

    6th generation fighter? Anyone want to bet it’ll be manned? After the F-35, it’ll be miraculous if the nation hasn’t been foreclosed upon by then!
    Victory: Lockheed!
    Losers: US Taxpayers!

    • ycplum

      They haven’t even agreed on what defines a 6th Gen fighter.
      In anycase, I belive it should be manned. He can’t entirely rely on remotely controlled drones (not to be confused with fully automated drones, which has a whole set of technical and policy problems). In a sustained battle (as opposed to a strike), all teh enemy has to do is jam the airwaves and teh entire force goes dumb.
      Of course, price will matter and I do believe we should also have unmanned vehicles in teh mix.

      • GrimmEngineer

        There are non-disclosed backup control methods. Enough said.

        • ycplum

          I know someone in the industry and that certain info is classified so I won’t pry to hard. Can you say if it is direct control via the electromagnetic spectrum or a failsafe preprogramed routine?

          • GrimmEngineer

            Failsafe pre-programmed route + alternate control method. (not RF) Sorry, I can’t even hint at it. But you would say Holy James Bond!

          • ycplum

            No problem. Thanks.
            I always figured there can only be two alternatives, either some alternate communication on using either very high and/or very low frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum OR a preprogramed failsafe.
            The more frequencies they have to jam, more power they need. Any potential enemy would be able to jam the entire spectrum.
            I don’t think our systems are sophisticated enough for a laser beam communication with moving systems like they have on TV or sci-fi books.

  • Curtis Conway

    The curve for introducing a new generation fighter is getting longer not shorter so a sooner start is necessary. I suggest emphasis on a naval version should take precedence and develop the shore based version from that design. If it were to be a STOVL version it can be flown by everybody anywhere. It should have the range and engagement capability of an F-14 on steroids. Our future conflicts will require that range and increased engagement capability.

    • CharlesHouston

      In our “current” conflicts (Afghanistan, Iraq) we could have safely flown the B-17 bomber. For our future conflicts will we be adversaries of the Chinese (they will bomb their purchases in the US)? How can we say what our future conflicts will require?

    • Don Bacon

      If it’s STOVL it won’t have the range and engagement capability of an F-14 on steroids. Pick one.

    • Grumman Blue

      “F-14 on steroids” But there is no more Grumman, and don’t dare say Northrop Grumman, It has nowhere near the dedication, brainpower, and pure will to defeat the enemy of the original.

    • FranciscodAnconia

      :-) Respectfully Curtis, it won’t even be manned.

      • Curtis Conway

        There will be a manned 6th Gen aircraft. It should look like something that was used by the US Navy to deter our last enemy with forces looking more like an expanding Soviet force of our past. It may not be STOVL or VSTOL. However, once the benefits of a 5th Gen STOVL aircraft shows just how much of an improvement it is over the Harrier, then critiques will be quelled. Something that can land ANYWHERE doesn’t have to have the extreme range, but the range and engagement capability of an F-14’s AWG-9 improved to today’s standards will be a force with which to contend, and will be able to defend the fleet. The AIM-120 NCADE is quite a weapon, but not a panacea, and the service knows that. The next multiple engagement airborne combat system will be an improvement on one that is not yet fielded (F-35) and one that is (F-22). That combat system will not only sanitize airspace with the weapons on board, but utilize weapons from other places. Innovative thinking using tactics taking advantage of the force multipliers, is the key. You are correct in the observation that many unmanned platforms are in our future, but not all of them.

        • FranciscodAnconia

          Respectfully, the next generation bomber will be the last manned combat aircraft (and they are even talking about providing the option to fly IT in an unmanned mode).

          Combat aircraft have become cost prohibitive. Their capabilities will be replaced by more capable weapons (advanced sensors, longer range…), relegating the delivery platform itself to the role of dump truck. Unmanned dump truck, that is.

          We cannot continue to support Trillion dollar lifetime costs for single systems. The era of the “combat pilot” has run its course. Time to embrace the future. We will be remembered as the knights of the 20th century.

  • CharlesHouston

    The 6th Gen fighter’s name indicates that it will be so expensive that we will be able to afford just 6 of them!