Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said right now USAF and China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force are roughly the same size as far as personnel are concerned, but USAF has a couple thousand more aircraft. However, by 2030 China will have closed that aircraft gap and will likely be significantly larger than USAF in terms of people. During the same time frame, China is expected to field “a number of new aircraft … completely new variants” and will have updated three more legacy variants. “We are not keeping up with that kind of technology development,” Welsh told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on Tuesday. USAF “will have the best technology in the battlespace, especially if we can continue with our current big three modernization programs, with the LRS-B and the F-35, but [China] will have a lot of technology that’s better than the stuff we’ve had before,” he added. The same is true for Russia, which has advanced cruise missiles and new aircraft dropping weapons for the first time in conflict—something Welsh said the US is watching closely. “So they’re serious air forces and they’re serious about getting better, and the Chinese in particular, clearly have? a blueprint that is matching against our shortfalls,” he said. “And so I think that’s something that we have to consider as we look to the future. Not modernizing our Air Force is not an answer that’s acceptable.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.