The long preoccupation with counterinsurgency in the Middle East and Southwest Asia—attended by long under-investment in full-spectrum readiness and modernization—has exacted a price on the Air Force, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh said in his speech at AWS16. “If somebody asks you, ‘is the Air Force ready?,’” Welsh said, “The question is, ‘to do what?’” If the mission is “low-threat CAS [close air support] in the MIddle East, yep, we’re 100 percent ready. Send us out the door.” But if the mission is “fight a major theater war in Eastern Europe or the Pacific against a well-trained, well-equipped enemy, the answer is, ‘we’re not very ready for that. And it’s going to be ugly.’” The Air Force can’t afford to give up any more people or postpone modernization any longer, Welsh insisted. He also expressed impatience with the Pentagon leadership’s slowness to recognize the importance of USAF’s contributions. Airpower is “indispensable” to any national fight, “you can’t win without it,” and this fact needs to be recognized, Welsh insisted. “We’ve got airmen who are incredibly skilled at this, who’ve operated at every level … It is time for airmen to lead joint force operations.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.