National Harbor, MD: The Air Force will protect and defend the budgets of the KC-46 airborne tanker, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and the nascent Long Range Strike Bomber, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told a standing room audience of more than 1,200 here.
Oh, and Welsh made clear his view of those arguing we should get rid of an independent Air Force.
“By the way, I’m getting really frustrated hearing this, why do need an Air Force debate,” he said, flashing a slide that listed the number of “airmen” at other services: Army, 34,000; Marines 39,000; Navy 70,000; Air Force 690,000. Just how much does he respect this argument? “Let’s just shoot this one in the head.”
Bear in mind, Welsh is a motivational leader willing to go to such marvelous lengths as wearing a sort of superhero mask in Air Force blue bearing a big “A” for airman while making some of his speech (see photo above) [Younger, geekier deputy editor’s note: It’s a Captain America mask. Better looking editor’s note: yeah, but the A still stands for airman]. That’s right — a four-star general in front of more than 1,000 people exposing himself to possible ridicule and I haven’t heard a negative comment about it here today.
Why is the Air Force so adamant about protecting the F-35 and Long Range Strike bomber? (We assume you know that tankers are a key reason America is a global power and our 50-year-old tankers need replacing)?
The head of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Hostage, made the point plainly this afternoon at the Air Force Association’s annual conference. If we are to be a global power capable of deterring and defeating possible threats then we need fifth-generation aircraft. The “tiny fleet” of roughly than 185 F-22s isn’t large enough to meet the Clausewitzian need for numbers, Hostage said: “The 1,763 F-35s is not a luxury; it’s a national security imperative.”
The bombers are needed because the aging but still highly capable fleet of 20 B-2s is just too small to be effective in the aggressive anti-access/area denial warfare the military predicts is likely. Think lots of highly accurate and relatively long-range surface-to-air missiles, with enormous amounts of electronic jamming and tactical aircraft.
The Pentagon currently plans to build 100 of the new bombers, armed with highly sophisticated sensors, electronic jamming gear and boasting built-in stealth that would be much more resilient than that used on the B-2s. It would also allow the United States, several Air Force officers here told me, to boast enough bombers to hold at bay even an enormous country like China since we could penetrate its airspace at multiple points across a wide swath. The most recent budget included at least $400 million for the new bomber.
Edited 7:50 am Wednesday to add Captain America reference and correct typos.