US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh speaks at last year's Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium. This year's show begins Thursday. (US Air Force)
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WASHINGTON — Starting Wednesday, Air Force leadership will descend on the Orlando, Fla., area for the annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium.
In recent years AFA Orlando, as it’s commonly referred to, has been one of the many defense shows hit hard by sequestration. While the major industry players will have booths there, expect them to be relatively small, with few, if any, major announcements.
Instead, the main draw is the large number of general officers who will be speaking. In addition to Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, speakers include Gen Robin Rand, head of Air Education and Training Command; Gen. Paul Selva, the head of Air Mobility Command and President Obama’s nominee to head US TRANSCOM; Gen. Frank Gorenc, who heads U.S. air forces in Europe and Africa; Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, head of Air Force Material Command; and Gen. William Shelton, the leader of Air Force Space Command.
Their speeches will cover a variety of topics, but the two main themes will be the president’s 2015 budget, expected on March 4, and the ongoing cheating and drugs scandal plaguing the nuclear force.
While hard budget details will be scarce, service officials will be dropping hints and laying the groundwork to defend their choices for which programs are funded in the President’s budget request. That information will be closely watched by industry, which is already gearing up for the budget fight.
The most obvious sign of looming budget battles? Lockheed Martin is hosting a briefing on its U-2 Dragon Lady, the first U-2 focused event the company has held for some time. It likely is a sign the company is concerned about the platform’s future — not surprising, given that top service generals have talked openly about having to cut the U-2 in the budget.
While gearing up for those budget fights in Congress, the service is also trying to limit damage from the nuclear scandal. Given how Secretary James has tried to stay ahead of the conversation, expect several generals to acknowledge systemic problems but focus on the airmen who successfully handle their jobs day in and day out.