Welsh on Syria

Aug. 28, 2013—The Air Force has been preparing for potential military action in Syria, but it won’t be as prepared as it would like to be, if the President gives the order to act, due to the budget sequester’s impact, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh this week during stops in Japan as part of his Asia-Pacific tour.

“The Secretary of Defense has asked us to prepare a range of options, and we have been doing that planning,” said Welsh in an Aug. 26 interview with the Daily Report in Tokyo. “This is part of our due diligence,” he said. Combatant commanders and the Joint Staff are taking the lead on formulating options.

But as evidenced by statements from Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and the other service Chiefs in the past few months, Welsh noted that the service Chiefs are being very open about what military action would entail, what forces would be needed, and what commitments would be required.

The set of challenges facing the US military is more complicated in Syria than it was in the lead-up to 2011’s military intervention in Libya, Welsh told airmen on Tuesday and Wednesday at Yokota Air Base and Misawa Air Base.

“Over the last eight months or so, the Chiefs have been united on this,” said Welsh during his stop with Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing. “We’ve been pretty blunt about this,” he said.

He emphasized that sequestration tradeoffs, such as grounding tactical combat squadrons earlier this year, have had a real impact on readiness and the service’s ability to perform the full spectrum of combat missions. If the President decides to take action, the Air Force and the services will carry out their assigned missions—but “we are not going to be as ready as we would like,” said Welsh when discussing the Air Force’s part.

Welsh made the point that funding for sequestration-related work-arounds mandated by Congress to cover the tuition-assistance program had to come from one place—operations accounts, specifically flying hours.

In any air-campaign scenario involving Syria, he said, two capabilities likely needed would be F-16CJ Wild Weasels, which are specially configured for suppression of enemy air defenses, and F-22s.

Squadrons of both those capabilities were grounded earlier this year, save for Raptors on deployment to US Pacific Command’s area of responsibility, in order to pay the remainder of the service’s tuition-assistance bills.

“That’s not a good place to be for us,” said Welsh.