The top officer in the Air Force warned Thursday that if Congress again fails to pass a budget that fully funds the military, the service will face significant challenges in protecting the American homeland and sustaining ongoing missions.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said another short-term spending bill would deprive the branch of $1.3 billion at a time when the service is already suffering significant readiness shortfalls.
"There is no enemy on the planet that can do more damage to the United States Air Force than us not getting a budget," Goldfein said at a Washington, D.C. event hosted Thursday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Goldfein said if lawmakers pass a year-long continuing resolution in April that freezes funding at 2016 levels, South Carolina's Shaw Air Force Base, which headquarters Central Command's air forces, will become a "no-fly zone."
Under a continuing resolution, Goldfein said the Air Force would be unable to hire the number of maintainers, air traffic controllers, and pilots needed to engage successfully in current missions and rebuild readiness. He warned that a stop-gap bill also would prevent the service from acquiring the training and flight hours needed to fly new aircraft.
"The challenge that we face as an Air Force [is] while missions have been growing, our Air Force has been getting smaller," Goldfein said.
The Air Force is at its smallest level since World War II and suffers deficits in pilot and maintainer air power.
The Air Force maintained nearly one million active-duty airmen during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Today, that number has shrunk to 660,000 airmen, a 38 percent reduction over 15 years. The number of fighter squadrons has also declined drastically, from 134 in 1991 to 55 today.
The Air Force has proposed to expand its forces by 30,000 airmen over the next five to six years, but that plan could be delayed if Congress fails to grant the service a defense appropriation by the end of April. Goldfein said that manpower is the top readiness priority for him and Defense Secretary James Mattis.
"If you were to ask me, 'are you ready to sustain the current campaign in the Middle East for the next ten years?' I'd tell you, if that's all I've got to do, then yes," Goldfein said.
"But if you tell me that the defense strategic guidance says that I need to be doing that in the Middle East without relief, and defend the homeland, and have a safe, secure, reliable nuclear deterrent, and ensure that you are ready to put 80 percent of the force forward against a near peer adversary, I will tell you that I've got big concerns," he added.
Lawmakers have until April 28 to pass a new budget before the current continuing resolution expires.
Published under: Air Force