ORLANDO (AFNS) --
Getting top performing Airmen promoted sooner, changing the enlisted performance report system, streamlining the enlisted and officer professional education programs and developing a roadmap for the Air Force for the next three decades were some of the topics discussed by the Air Force’s top officer during the 30th annual Air Force Association Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition here Feb. 20.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III spoke to an audience of Airmen, members of industry and AFA, providing an update on Air Force issues that ranged from fiscal realities over the upcoming decades to come to aircraft and equipment modernization to issues affecting Airmen today and in the future.
Welsh spoke to Airmen directly about several myths and misconceptions floating throughout the Air Force on the issue of education requirements, both private and professional. He emphasized that having a Community College of the Air Force degree will still be a requirement, but the requirement for bachelor’s degrees and higher will be revised in the years ahead.
For professional military education, he said the current schools aren’t going away, but there will be streamlined versions.
“On the right hand side of the page, we’re still going to require Airman Leadership School, we’re still going to have the NCO Academy and the Senior NCO Academy,” Welsh said. “The only difference is that the NCO Academy and the Senior NCO Academy are going to be blended learning in the future. We’re already doing the beta test on the Senior NCO Academy, and requiring the correspondence course before residency.
"It will actually shrink the length of the residence course, and it will not repeat the lessons found on the online version," he continued. "It’s not a CBT type of learning. It’s more involved than that. So, that will be tested this fall, and we’ll go fully operational next spring.”
Welsh said that Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody and the major command chiefs are also looking into the effectiveness of the current EPR, with a primary focus on Airmen promotion into the senior NCO ranks.
“Let me tell you the guidance I gave him that started all this," the general said. "I told them I was concerned that a really average tech sergeant can make master sergeant at the same time as a phenomenal tech sergeant. I was concerned that the reality is that your job performance doesn’t have anything to do with it.
“As long as you don’t shoot yourself in the foot, you’re going to get a 5 EPR and it will be WAPS testing and time-in-service and time-in-grade that makes the difference. RAND (Corp.) did a study for us that showed a 1.4 or 1.6 percent difference, that’s the impact of your performance when making master sergeant. There’s something wrong with that.”
Fundamentally, Welsh said, “I want our best tech sergeants to make master sergeant first. There needs to be logical time-in-service, time-in-grade requirements, but we need our best performers to be senior NCOs faster so we can use them longer to lead our Air Force. And I don’t know any master sergeant who wouldn’t agree with that. That doesn’t mean we haven’t had qualified people in the past get promoted, it means our best people aren’t moving forward quicker.”
Welsh said that during a mock board held last year, overseen by Cody, there was about a 25 percent difference between who was promoted by the mock board versus how the traditional board turned out. The mock board handled more like a senior master sergeant board, he said, where records are scored and weighting is based upon job performance And in one career field, the chief of staff noted the best performers were not promoted under the current system.
“Job performance is what we should value most," Welsh said. "It’s not quarterly awards, volunteer work off-duty, although those things are wonderful, but when it comes to promoting people at the senior grades, both officer and enlisted, job performance is what should matter most to us.”
In the officer ranks, Welsh said there is a misconception that a master’s degree is required at a certain level for promotion. He believes many officers feel it is at the rank of major. He said currently there is no requirement for a master’s degree at any rank.
Welsh said he is going to recommend to the secretary that there should be a requirement.
“We’re going to look at to get promoted to the rank of colonel would require a master’s degree," the general said. "If you get picked up at school, you’ll get it at school.”
He would also like to make it a requirement before you get considered for promotion to major, lieutenant colonel or colonel to have squadron officer school, intermediate service school or senior service school complete before you get promoted.
“Squadron officer school is changing – we’re shrinking the course," Welsh said. "There’s going to be a 100 percent opportunity for active officers to go. Don’t take it by correspondence. If you get within a year of the major’s board and you’ve been operationally deferred, go take it then. We’re going to give you a chance to go.
"For intermediate service school, or senior service school, if you get selected to go, don’t take it by correspondence. In fact we’re going to keep you from taking it by correspondence. Just wait and get it done when you go. You’ll get a master’s degree at the same time. Quit double dipping on everything. We do not have to operate that way. In fact it is our job at the front of the room, (talking about MAJCOM commanders) -- all our senior raters have to understand that we have to change this.”
“It’s about job performance, guys," he continued. "I want young officers doing their jobs, doing as good as they can, then going home and be young husbands, young wives, young mothers and fathers, young friends, young buddies. Have a life. We can do that and still have a very good Air Force.”
In terms of where we’re headed as an Air Force during the decades ahead, Welsh feels it’s important to look at where we’ve been for the last 70 years.
“The Air Force has had a lot of guiding concepts we’ve walked through. We’ve actually gone through strategic bombardment at end of World War II in the late 40s, early 50s, to nuclear deterrence after the Korean War, as we built up the Strategic Air Command and the world’s greatest strategic force.”
The chief of staff said we drifted to air land battle during the 70s and 80s, and “we picked up global reach, global power and parallel warfare, counter-terrorism to support counter insurgency operations, global vigilance, global reach and global power – question for us now is, so what’s next?
Welsh said the Air Force put out a vision document about a year ago that focused on Airmen and believes that, since 1947, they are the primary reason behind the service’s success.
“They are the engine that drives this service. We put out a vision on global reach and power to remind Airmen that our core missions haven’t changed since 1947. Airmen need to see where they fit, directly or indirectly in those core missions.”
Welsh said that last year Air Force leaders worked on a resource strategy called Air Force 2023.
"It’s not an Air Force strategy, it’s a resource strategy designed to get us to the end of sequestration. We need a strategy … we’re writing it. It will be done by June.”
He said there’s going to be a 30-year look to “make sure we don’t get our feet stuck in today, and never get to the point where we can see over that 30-year hill.”
He added that the plan has to include strategic assessment and valid threat assessment, and “it has to include strategic priorities, different lines of operations, from science and technology to keep us moving in the right direction to stay on the leading edge of technology."
Welsh said that the second piece of this is a 20-year look. He said the idea is to bring the multiple master plans that we have that are done by our core function leads around the Air Force and integrate them into a single Air Force master plan.
“This is going to be important for us because it allows us to make those strategic trades across those portfolios that we have been struggling to get done for the past few years," he said. "Everybody’s working hard at it, but the process doesn’t make it simple. We’re going to predict what our top lines are going to be for 20 years, then we’re going to tie our hands and try to live within them.
“If a program succeeds, can we proceed? If it fails can we go to a plan B. Are there pivot points we can identity where we have to look at the world around us and make changes, and production buy numbers or technologies we’re pursuing and look at our science and technology priorities, as well as what’s going on around us in the world. And attached to that master plan are flight plans and road maps for such things as ISR, bombers or human capital development.”
Finally Welsh said we have the 10-year look, our resource strategy.
“We’re going to balance the budget for 10 years, we’re going to try to hold ourselves to that," he said. "The first five years becomes the program objective memorandum input (5-year budget), then we roll it up and do it again. Balance it again so we keep reality within our funding streams. And the projections we’re making down the road.”
Welsh talked about some of the aircraft, weapon and equipment priorities during the years ahead to maintain air superiority. He mentioned getting the F-35 fielded, getting 4th and 5th generation aircraft to share data between them, missile and weapons upgrades and space and cyber superiority as key issues. He said that while not always popular, it’s not too early to look at the 6th generation of aircraft.
Welsh concluded his remarks with a simple bottom line for the success of the Air Force -- is its Airmen and the core values they represent.
”These core values are who we are. They are what we stand for and they are what this uniform represents. If there are people in the Air Force who don’t think they stand for the same thing, if these don’t represent their values, they need to find another profession.”