BY SARA SIROTA
A top Air Force general is sounding the alarm about the service’s size and readiness.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Thursday said today’s Air Force is “the smallest we’ve ever been” in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, according to a Defense Department report.
He said that while across-the-board defense cuts might have been understandable in 2013, the Air Force now faces new challenges and responsibilities, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s military activities in the South China seas and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
And Goldfein expressed concerns about lawmakers passing another continuing resolution for defense spending, which would just extend current funding levels.
“There’s talk of going to a year-long continuing resolution,” he said. “That’s $1.3 billion,” a figure he said would make it hard to build up manpower.
Goldfein’s comments come as the Pentagon prepares a supplemental budget request that will seek new funds for the fight against ISIS.
Earlier this month, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces began their operation to liberate Mosul from the group. U.S. advisers in Iraq are also now able to directly contribute airstrikes and artillery fire to partnered units, Military Times reported Friday.
The Pentagon is also drawing up a strategy to counter ISIS, which will be delivered to President Trump as early as next week, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
That could mean even more work for the Air Force.
Currently the service has 313,000 active duty members and 5,456 manned and unmanned aircraft. Aircraft capacity has been on decline since the mid-1950s, when the Air Force had more than 20,000 aircraft.
Over the past few years, military officials have been raising concerns about the Air Force’s strength.
“So, demand for our services is way, way up,” said then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in 2015, citing the fight against ISIS. “But we are meeting those demands today with the smallest Air Force in our history. And when you couple that smaller force against the backdrop of austere budgets, and with the huge demand, what we have is we have a total force that is under significant strain.”
In July 2016, Maj. Gen. Scott West, then director of current operations, testified about the Air Force’s inadequate readiness before the House Armed Services Committee.
“In sum, our readiness is imbalanced at a time when the Air Force is small, old, and heavily tasked,” he said.
Some defense experts, though, are skeptical of those claims and question the Air Force’s budget priorities.
According to a ranking in 2015 from Business Insider, the U.S. has 13,892 military aircraft across the branches. The country with the next largest number of aircraft, Russia, has 3,429.