NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh wants a new manned close air support (CAS) platform when the service can afford it.
Welsh said Tuesday, when the resources present themselves, the Air Force “clearly” should acquire a platform that is cheaper to operate, has better weapons capability, is more responsive, can operate in low threat environment and operate successfully. Welsh said the new CAS platform would operate as a “high/low” force mix.
Those resources Welsh spoke about might not present themselves any time soon. Air Force Secretary Deborah James told reporters Tuesday a long-term continuing resolution (CR) rumored to be lurking for when fiscal year 2016 starts Oct. 1 would provide nearly $13 billion less than what the Air Force requested in its FY ’16 budget request. Experts are anticipating lawmakers being unable to pass authorization and appropriations bills in time for the new fiscal year.
The Air Force has tried to retire the A-10, its current CAS platform the last few years, only to be rebuffed by lawmakers. The service plans on using the F-35, once it reaches combat capability, to perform CAS missions, but this plan has drawn criticism for the the F-35’s high cost per flying hour, as opposed to the A-10s.
Welsh challenged accusations that the Air Force doesn’t value the CAS missions during his keynote speech here at the Air Force Association’s (AFA) Air and Space conference. He said the service has averaged 20,000 CAS sorties per year over the last seven years. Welsh also showed a photo of his son, who he said is a Marine Corps infantry officer.
“At what point do we get a little bit of acknowledgement for that,” Welsh asked.
Welsh, during his keynote, also touched on a few other key aircraft priorities. He said the Air Force needs the capabilities of the EC-130 on another platform or perhaps multiple different platforms. Welsh also said the Air Force needs to start thinking about recapitalizing the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). The service, he said, will start building a specific plan on “where this fits into the flow” for funding.
“This is not a ‘this-year’ problem, but it’s coming sooner than you think,” Welsh said. “We have to be ahead of the power curve.”