The Air Force is the smallest it’s been since its inception in 1947, said Secretary Deborah Lee James at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., last week. During Desert Storm/Desert Shield in 1990, the Air Force had 188 fighter squadrons; in the Fiscal 2016 budget it will go down to 49, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh at the symposium. In addition, the end strength had dropped from 511,000 Active Duty airmen at the time to 313,000 today—a 40-percent decrease. “There is no excess capacity anymore. There is no bench to go to in the Air Force. Everything is committed to the fight,” said Welsh. “I’d love to be able to tell you that that much smaller force is more modern, more capable, younger, but I can’t.” The Air Force cannot afford to stay on the path it’s on. “We must modernize the Air Force. This isn’t optional. We must do it,” Welsh said, noting that as USAF’s weapons systems are aging, other nations, like China, are developing new weapons. Welsh also said some domains, like space and cyber, are due for a reboot as well, given not much has been updated over the last 25 years. (Welsh transcript.)
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.