By Debbie Gregory.
Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff , said the service is critically short of personnel and needs to expand by more than 30,000 active-duty service members. Otherwise, the service branch may face challenges in meeting its security obligations, including an air war against Islamic State militants.
Goldfein said he will recommend expanding the size of the active duty Air Force from its current size of about 317,000 to 350,000. It would probably take five or six years to reach the higher level. Under current plans, the Air Force had planned to grow to 321,000.
At the start of the Gulf War, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons. Over the past few decades, that number has been cut to 55.
Yet, the Air Force is conducting nearly 70 percent of the strike missions against ISIS and conducting 90 percent of midair refueling missions over Iraq and Syria since August 2014.
Goldfein, who is described as a pilot’s pilot, has not just flown F-16s and F-117As, the kind of warplanes associated with an Air Force officer. He has also piloted the MQ-9 Reaper.
The Air Force is delivering weapons and ammunition to Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State, and has air-dropped supplies to a rebel force marching on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. It is also responding to other global crises.
Russia and China are emerging as potential threats that could challenge the U.S. military in ways the Islamic State has not. China is expanding its presence in the South China Sea and Russia has become a major player in Syria’s civil war, siding with the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The U.S. Air Force has rarely been challenged in the skies during its campaign against the Islamic State. That could change if the United States were to face another nation’s military capable of challenging the U.S. military’s technological advantages.