Budget Triage

To come up with $12 billion in sequester cuts, the Air Force is making choices everyone will hate, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Welsh said he’s in a “surreal position…arguing to get rid of things that I don’t want to get rid of,” while critics tell him all the things he must not cut. The A-10, for example, can do close air support, but little else. The available money has to go to F-35s and F-16s instead, Welsh said. “The plan was always” to transition from A-10s to F-35s doing CAS; “this is nothing new,” Welsh explained. Shutting down the A-10 fleet saves $3.7 billion over the future years defense plan, he noted, “if we get rid of all the logistics and infrastructure behind it.” To get similar savings he’d have to cut “three-to-four times as many F-16 squadrons” because he’d be keeping the logistics tail. And, the Air Force would have to give up “the air superiority mission (as well as) destruction of the (enemy’s) theater reserve,” which the F-16 can do and the A-10 can’t. Saving the A-10 means “we can’t do the strategic fight,” Welsh explained, and that has to be the top triage priority. “If you lose a counterinsurgency action, it’ll be embarrassing,” he said. “If you lose the full-spectrum conflict, it could be catastrophic.”