U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh says that major cuts to the defense budget will weaken the United States' air dominance against future enemies.
"China and Russia are two good examples of countries who will be fielding capability in the next three to five years; if they stay on track, that is better than what we currently have in many areas," Welsh said in an interview with Fox News.
"Fighter aircraft in the next three to five years that have more capability than what we currently have sitting on the ramp. The F-35 will stay a generation ahead of them. F-22 will, too. Everything else we have will not stay ahead. The gap has closed," the Air Force head explained.
The F-22 was used in combat for the first time when the United States deployed air power to help with the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). According to Fox News, the aircraft, which travels at almost twice the speed of sound, continues to lead almost every combat mission over Syria.
"I think we saw a lot of what the F-22 can do, but you certainly didn't see all it can do," Welsh told Fox News.
But looking at the air capabilities of other countries, Welsh says that he is very concerned about what that will mean for the future.
"By eight to 10 years from now, we could be facing as many as 50 countries who use Russian and Chinese top-end fighters today," the Air Force chief told Fox.
Welsh reportedly smiled, when asked if the innovation seen in Russian and Chinese fighter jets is largely based on stolen technology from the United States.
"When you look at pictures you go, ‘Man — that looks familiar,'" Welsh said.
But it's not just air power that has taken a hit from defense budget cuts, Welsh said.
"We are 200,000 people fewer in the active component. That's 40 percent less than we were during the first Gulf War. It's a dramatically different Air Force," he explained to Fox.
"We have to stop this drawdown and build a red line right now in the size of the active force," he added.
One major concern for Welsh is that the Air Force is losing drone pilots, and the military hasn't been able to replace them.
"It's a serious problem if we can't fix it," Welsh said. "The problem we have is the requirement has grown dramatically since 2008."
"About 2008 is when we hit what we thought was the requirement, 21 orbits. Well, now we are at 60 and we are actually flying 10 more than we are manned for," Welsh said.
"Since 2008, they have been operating on six days, on two days, 12-hour days — driving 45 minutes away and then when they surge they go to seven days on, one day off and that schedule is just wearing them down," he explained.
Air Force Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, wrote to Welsh about the problem
in January, saying that "we are at a breaking point if we don't do something to normalize the system."
"We've been in constant surge mode. We're burning them out," Carlisle added.
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