Welsh Highlights Readiness, Retention Concerns

The return of Budget Control Act funding levels could affect readiness and efforts to retain experienced airmen in key missions, such as aircrews, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told Senate legislators Wednesday. The Air Force used a good portion of its short-term funding gains in Fiscal 2015 to buy-back readiness in a host of missions that were hammered in the aftermath of sequestration, said Welsh, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside the other service chiefs. But even with units receiving more readiness dollars in 2015, just under 50 percent are fully ready today, he added, and a return of cuts would force training and readiness cutbacks again. Pilots looking at a ramp with inactive aircraft “feel like a hollow force,” Welsh said, in addition to maintainers, weapons loaders, and others. The “frustrations” with BCA also come at a time where commercial airlines are ramping up hiring as they look to hire “thousands” of pilots to replace baby boomer retirees, noted Welsh. If the Air Force does not train, equip, and incentivize these aircrews, “they will walk,” he said. SASC Chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) echoed Welsh’s concern on pilot retention, saying the services and Congress have to face up to this issue even without sequestration. (Welsh prepared testimony)