Demand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance is driving the Air Force to move money into the mission from other areas, in an effort to keep up with increasing requests from combatant commanders, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense Feb. 27. “The desire for more ISR is going up, up, up,” James said. Just in support of Operation Inherent Resolve alone, USAF has helped identify 1,700 bombs and improvised explosive devices, provided some 18 million images and helped take 22 “high value individuals” off the battlefield— meaning they were either killed or captured. Welsh said this demand has forced the Air Force to reorder priorities, noting seven years ago it moved to “shut down” 10 fighter squadrons in order to fund more ISR capabilities. “It’s part of the capacity problem now for fighters squadrons, but we had to go there to get resources,” he pointed out. “When (combatant commanders) tell us ISR is No. 1 we … ask them ‘would you prefer us to invest in more ISR or more (fighter) capacity?’” Welsh said. “That’s where we come to these difficult decisions.”
These are the complete remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Reagan National Defense Forum, Dec. 3, 2022, in Simi Valley, Calif.