NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.——If you were to accidentally stumble into the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference, wrapping up here on Wednesday, without any sort of context whatsoever, you might think you’d landed in the midst of something between a very large family reunion and a mild-mannered evangelical tent meeting. That is, until you saw the static displays of bombs and drones and aircraft mock-ups in the exposition hall.
The father figure and pastor of the “aerospace nation,” as the Air Force Association and various Air Force officials referred to the collective culture around the military aerospace community, was General Mark Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff. On Tuesday, Welsh gave the State of the Air Force address. Today, his office issued its latest tract, the Air Force Future Operating Concept—a document outlining how the service plans to operate 20 years in the future. And while the latter is a vision of an optimistic future, Welsh’s address focused largely on the gaps the Air Force faces in getting there and the challenges the Air Force faces just on delivering on its mission today.
Welsh noted that the Air Force is in its “24th year of continual combat—no air force has done that before.”