WASHINGTON — Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson testified on the need for increased force structure and modernization before the House and Senate Armed Services committees Feb. 7 and 8 on Capitol Hill.
Wilson discussed the current state of the Air Force, how it’s ensuring capability within current constraints, and requirements needed to bring the service back to full strength in global vigilance, reach and power.
“During the allotted time of this hearing an average of 65 mobility aircraft will take off, 430,000 malicious connections will be blocked, five homeland defense missions will fly, and three strikes against ISIS will occur,” Wilson said.
He provided examples of recent air operations, including various combat and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and the Raqqah and Mosul offensives, “where our RPA, fighter and bomber Airmen also conducted 92 percent of the U.S. strikes against ISIS.”
The Air Force has shrunk from more than 500,000 active-duty Airmen during Desert Storm to approximately 317,000 today – a 38 percent decrease, all while the capabilities Airmen provide for the nation and allies have never been more vital, and the global demand for American airpower will only grow in the future, he said.
“We are out of balance, and the demand for our mission and people exceeds the supply,” Wilson said. “Twenty-six years of continuous combat has limited our ability to prepare for future advanced threat environments – scenarios with the lowest margins of error and highest risk to national security. This non-stop combat, paired with budget instability and lower-than-planned top lines made the United States Air Force one of the smallest, oldest-equipped, and least-ready in our history.”
Wilson also discussed the current pilot retention issue – pilots are unable to do what they signed up for and are choosing to leave the Air Force after about 11 years of service, he said. In 1991, there were 134 fighter squadrons; today, there are 55.
Air Force leaders, according to Wilson, have been forced to make unacceptable tradeoffs between readiness, force structure and modernization. Today’s global challenges require an Air Force ready to defeat violent extremism and any other threat the nation may face.
Quoting Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Wilson said, “The history of failure in war can be summed up in two words: too late. Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy. Too late in realizing the mortal danger. Too late in preparedness.”
Wilson said the biggest priorities for modernization are nuclear deterrence operations, the KC-46 Pegasus, F-35 Lightning II, and the B-21 Raider.
Wilson said readiness cannot be overlooked.
“Your Air Force needs Congressional support to repeal the Budget Control Act and provide predictable funding. It is critical to rebuilding military full-spectrum readiness, which is the number one priority of our Secretary of Defense.
“We need to act now,” he continued. “Before it’s too late.”