An Empty SAC of Troubles

The Air Force lost its “presence” in the top tier of the nuclear deterrence conversation when Strategic Air Command was abolished in the early 1990s, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said April 2. “We lost the focal point,” he said, and with it, expertise on nuclear issues on the Air Staff. Welsh said he recently convened a number of senior-leader seminars, “just to re-educate ourselves” on the nuclear mission and how it affects the broader Air Force, during which leaders are “learning a lot that we should already have known.” In his opinion, Welsh said, USAF should be central to the nuclear discussion, offering “practical solutions [and] priorities,” as well as “options other than what we’re used to” for national leaders. The service has not “influenced those discussions” on the direction of the nuclear enterprise “in my opinion, to the level we need to.” Welsh said the decisions regarding USAF’s nuclear mission since SAC went out of business “all made sense at the time,” but during those 17 years, USAF “slowly slid out of the picture in this discussion.” That’s sometimes “because all the people who do the nuke work for us are not here in Washington, and don’t visit enough. Sometimes it’s because there’s a lot of things going on in the Air Force and the Chief of Staff wasn’t engaged directly enough … We lost the knowledge on the Air Staff.” (See also Nuclear Force Improvements from the April issue of Air Force Magazine.)