Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said USAF is already cutting its modernization program by 50 percent, and in Fiscal 2016 it plans to return to sequester-level funding. Speaking to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Welsh said pay and compensation reform, though a “tough decision,” is one the services must make in order to preserve the ability to fight today and be viable in a future conflict. If sequester returns and proposals are not heeded, USAF faces the possibility of cutting an additional $8.1 billion from its readiness accounts and infrastructure over the next five years, delaying such programs as the new trainer aircraft and the Combat Rescue Helicopter and divesting the KC-10 fleet, said Welsh. In an exchange with Sen. Deborah Fischer (R-Neb.), Welsh also noted that since 2001, personnel costs for the Air Force have stayed relatively steady, between 30 percent and 35 percent of its budget. The trouble is the costs have remained the same even though the service has slashed some 50,000 airmen from its end strength in that time.
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.