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Changes Coming: Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, addresses the National Guard Association of the United States Conference Aug. 24 in Chicago. Sources are concerned that an accelerated internal review could result in hasty decisions. (Illinois National Guard)
CHICAGO — The US Air Force’s top general said he wants to figure out the balance between the active, Guard and reserve components for the vast majority of his service’s programs in time to drive fiscal 2016 decisions.
But some involved in the process are concerned that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh’s desire to change old paradigms is driving an aggressive schedule that could end in hasty decisions the service could come to regret.
The Total Force Continuum (TFC), a permanent office to make recommendations on matters of force structure between the active, Guard and reserve components, is reviewing where force structure could be shifted or moved out of components entirely.
The TFC was stood up this year at the direction of Welsh and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
TFC’s “high velocity analysis approach” involves a 90-day review of both individual weapon systems and skill sets such as lawyers and engineers. At the end of those reviews, the continuum makes a recommendation on what the force structure mix should look like.
That group expects to complete 80 percent of the system-by-system reviews by the end of the year, Welsh said, with a plan to incorporate those findings into the service’s 2016 budget request.
“The intent is to figure out how to quit doing things that stand in the way of doing things with common sense,” Welsh said of the TFC during an Aug. 24 speech at the 136th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States.
That high velocity approach might be going too quickly, however, something sources attribute to the desire to have it help shape the fiscal 2016 budget.
“This is so different from the other processes we’ve had, like the corporate process for budgeting and even the Total Force Task Force,” one source with knowledge of the discussions said. “There's always been a rush to get it done in the end, but the high velocity aspect of this is driving a very fast schedule so the Air Force can influence the 16 POM.”
The source stressed the belief that Welsh has the best intentions in mind, but worried that program decisions could be made quickly without time for full input from Guard leadership.
“This is going at such a rapid pace a lot of stakeholders are just saying ‘It’s fast and if you miss a meeting you can miss something,’ ” the source added. “So there’s some anxiety about it, because it’s just so different.”
Welsh addressed some of those concerns in an Aug. 26th meeting, the source added, and expressed his intent to challenge old ideas, garner input from the MAJCOMs and Guard leadership in order to develop more feasible options.
A second source pointed to the fact the TFC has been something of a revolving door as having an effect.
“A lot of this is personality driven,” he said. “Those guys are only there for six months at a time, which is not the best idea. So I think that is driving a lot of that.”
“On the flip side,” the second source added, “given the budget pressures at play and all the variables, they do need to sort through this stuff pretty aggressively. Admiring the problem doesn’t help anybody.
Speaking to Defense News Aug. 25, Welsh dismissed concerns the program was moving too quickly.
“We have not had to rush yet, because we established a deliberate timeline and said here is the timeline we can make,” Welsh said.
“If we had tried to make a bunch of changes in the ’15 budget, we would have been rushed, because we just did not have enough facts to lay on the table,” he added. “In the ’16 budget, there are going to be some things we have not figured out yet. We will not have 100 percent of this figured out. And, if we are forced to make final decisions for everything by ’16, we will be rushed.”
Leaders in the Guard and reserve also understand that there is a delicate balance between going too fast and too slow, Welsh noted.
“Nobody is pushing to try and accelerate this. Everybody understands we have to get it right,” he said. “If you get it wrong and rush into it, you could break the Air Force. You really could do that. No one wants that to happen. And, so I think we just got to continue to do this at the right pace.”
Better Relations with Guard
The TFC is one of the more visible actions Welsh has taken to improve relations between the Guard and active components since arriving as chief in 2012. Those actions have largely paid off, as Welsh received a warm welcome from the 4,000 attendees at the conference held Aug. 24-25.
When Welsh took the stage, he was introduced as “family” and the man responsible for getting the service “flying in formation as a total force Air Force the way we should be.”
“If we can become more efficient as an Air Force without losing operational capability, by putting more things in the Air Guard and reserve component, then why wouldn’t we?” he asked the crowd rhetorically.
The active and Air National Guard are only two years removed from a bruising, public spat over the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget request, which the Guard and reserve component viewed as cutting their budgets unfairly. That fight bled over into Congress, which froze the service’s attempts at cuts and created a national commission to decide how best to move forward.
Welsh spent the first two years of his term balancing tightening budgets and working to mend the total force, while explaining to leaders and airmen the reality that the service will have to cut people and programs to meet sequestration-imposed cost caps.
“We are not going to make everybody happy in this effort, because the Air Force has got to change,” Welsh said. “We have to be part of the economic solution for the nation, which means we are going to have fewer resources.”
“In the end, if each of the components is treated fairly [and we do] what makes common sense for the status of the nation, everybody is going to be OK moving forward,” he added. “Even if you do not agree with a particular piece of the solution.” ■