Air Force Secretary Michael Donley laid out the price of Congress’ continued refusal to accept hard choices and set budgets that the service can plan to. “If there continues to be resistance to force structure changes, to base closures, to constraining growth in compensation, and given our current focus on trying to improve readiness,” continuation of the sequester into the next fiscal year likely would require “disproportionate cuts to our modernization programs,” said Donley during a May 24 press briefing in the Pentagon. “These cutbacks in modernization would put at risk the Air Force capabilities this nation will need in the decades ahead,” said Donley, who is stepping down from his post on June 21. He noted that in answering the last call for $487 billion in Defense Department-wide cuts, “the cancellation or delay of modernization programs accounted for 65 percent of total Air Force reductions” across the future years defense program. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, appearing with Donley, said the sequester has “driven us over the readiness cliff,” and the Air Force can’t even think about new starts until its “readiness crisis” is addressed. “We’ve entered a period from which we must first recover before we can think about what else might be possible down the road,” said Welsh. (Donley-Welsh transcript)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.