The Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force visited the IAF, held meetings, toured bases, and was impressed by the facilities and mainly the people. In a special interview with IAF magazine, he talks about the challenges the organization he commands faces
The big mission that awaits General Welsh has nothing to do with combat or even one enemy or another, mainly because in the global reality of September 2013, there isn’t a single air force on the face of the earth that can pose a challenge to the USAF.
The challenge facing General Welsh is the one at home: Over the next decade, the USAF will have to cut at least $500 billion from its budget. This imaginary amount is the result of extensive cuts in the military budget of all the branches of the United States Armed Forces.
“Obviously, we are going to be smaller”, the general emphasizes. “We are being forced to think carefully about how we are going to continue upgrading our capabilities as we cut. Obviously, some of the programs that we wanted to promote and implement never materialized, but we will continue and preserve our five basic principles at any cost”. The five points the general is referring to are aerial superiority, space superiority, air transport, command and control, intelligence gathering and strike missions.
One of the main questions, not to mention problems, on the agenda is the question of new tankers, because, for an air force that operates all over the globe, this is a crucial point. “Budgetary limits mean that between 2016 and 2028, only 179 new tankers of the KC-46 model will be commissioned”, he explains. “This means that two thirds of our fleet of refueling planes will continue to be planes that are around 50-60 years old”.
Nonetheless, General Welsh attests to the intense activity of the force he commands. “We work all over the world”, he explains. In recent years, the Middle East was one of the main areas of activity of the USAF when Iraq was the focus and after the withdrawal, the focus changed to Afghanistan from which the Americans are expected to withdraw next year.
“Despite the withdrawal from Iraq, there is still a demand for our activities in the Middle East. According to the plan, we are indeed supposed to leave Afghanistan next year, but even after the withdrawal, the USAF will continue activities whose purpose is the assistance to the new Afghan Air Force”, says Welsh. “The intention is to operate within the framework of training and I believe that at least in the period after our withdrawal, we will still work there”.
Despite the expected future vision of undisputed rule of UAVs in the sky, General Welsh says that, at least for now, the situation in the USAF is not so.
“UAVs constitute just five percent of our aircrafts. These are aircrafts that bring new technologies and naturally it takes time until the introduction of these technologies into service”, he explains and even here the extensive budget cuts of the force are meaningful. “As we scale down, the percentage of UAVs will grow”, Welsh adds.
The schedule of General Welsh’s most recent visit to the IAF was tight. He met with senior officers of the force headed by Major General Amir Eshel, Commander of the IAF, met with a forum of former commanders of the force, visited airbases, tested weapon systems, heard security briefings but before the end of his visit, he found time to express his opinion of the hosts: “The IAF is an exemplary combat force. Between us there is a familiarity that stretches many years, which is based on many joint activities. We train together at the highest level both in Israel and in the United States in training sessions of the ‘Red-Flag’ model, we frequently visit one another, update each other on operational information and share research and other activities”.
The General was impressed by the security situation on Israel’s borders when, during his visit to Mount Bental in the Golan heights, explosions were heard across the Syrian border.
Despite the major cuts that will surely have an impact in the coming years, General Welsh outlined his vision of the USAF in the coming decade: “I want us to always strive to be the biggest in the world, to continue to draft the best people, to train them according to our high standards and equip them thoroughly with the best equipment available and all this is so that whoever serves in the USAF will be the best”.