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AF backpedals on ANG cuts

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff nominee, made a damning statement about the Air Force's relationship with Congress at the end of Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee's nomination hearing.

"I think there is a trust problem that the Air Force must address and improve," Welsh said commenting on the reaction he received when meeting members of Congress and discussing the Air Force's budget proposals ahead of his nomination hearing.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a noted defense hawk, agreed with Welsh saying that shouldn't reflect on Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

"Your intel is good," the senator told the Air Force four-star without explaining why that's not the fault of those who lead the service.

The statement came at the end of Thursday's hearing, and it captured the struggles the Air Force has had in this budget environment. It's a problem Welsh knows he has to fix or his service will remain a constant target for an ever sharpening budget axe as sequestration looks more and more likely in this election year.

Welsh admitted to the committee that the service's budget proposal has no chance of being executed in the face of fierce opposition to the unbalanced cuts levied at the Air National Guard. The plan was to cut 5,100 Guard, 900 Reserve, and 3,100 active duty personnel.

Schwartz and Donley had Air Force Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner, Jr., and Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III sit behind them at each one of their 2013 budget hearings as a show of support from the total force.  Welsh admitted to Congress that was as much of a farce as everyone in the room already knew.

The U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander told Congress the stalemate the Air Force finds itself in must end as the budget is "simply not executable." He faulted service leaders for their lack of communication with the National Guard Bureau and the Council of Governors, two of the largest advocates for the Air National Guard.

Welsh is tired of the back and forth over studies about transferring fighter aircraft and cost benefit analysis reports. He wants to move forward.

"[The budget process] has to include better coordination and information sharing not just with the Air National Guard or the Air Force Reserve, but with the National Guard Bureau and clearly the link between the National Guard Bureau and Council of Governors has got to be energized in a more meaningful and productive way," Welsh said.

He wants an open dialogue with the National Guard Bureau and the Council of Governors. The Air Force learned its lesson the hard way. Don't take aim at the Guard unless you have an air tight case why it makes financial sense to levy cuts in the Guard's direction. Also, know you have the votes to make those cuts a reality.

A consistent target of the House's ire was the Air Force's decision to retire the nine Global Hawk Block 30s flying over Central, European and Pacific commands at time when intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission needs remain high. Schwartz said the Global Hawks had less capable sensors than the U2 and cost more to fly. Welsh said the service has since reversed that decision.

"I think what matters the most today is how we move forward from here because we're at a place we cannot stay. However we move forward it has to be together. Now, I believe there needs to be a more inclusive coordination process on the budget. Clearly, we've learned that this year," Welsh said.

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