The Air Force's top officer said Thursday that cutting seven squadrons and 10,000 troops over the next decade will be painful but necessary.
"We have no illusions that the road ahead is going to be easy," Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said during a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"I do think it's manageable if we all deal with this in an unemotional fashion."
To meet the $487 billion in defense cuts mandated by Congress, the Air Force will lose seven squadrons and 10,000 personnel, he said.
"We essentially traded some size for sustained quality," he said, adding that although smaller, the Air Force would still be an unmatched force and the most feared around the world.
Gen. Schwartz said the Air Force's modernization strategy would terminate lower-priority programs and focus on areas deemed most critical, including the KC-46 Tanker, its variant of the Joint Strike Fighter and remotely piloted aircraft.
"We favored multirole systems over those that are more specialized and emphasized more efficient common configuration of those systems that are retained," Gen. Schwartz said, referring to C-17 and C-5M transport planes and F-22 Raptors, F-15C Eagles and F-16 Falcon jet fighters.
He said the cuts will save nearly $9 billion over five years. Eliminating seven squadrons will leave 54 fighting groups.
About 130 older transport planes also will be cut, he added.
Gen. Schwartz defended the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system ever with each plane costing more than $130 million.
The multirole stealth aircraft has been plagued with huge cost overruns and technical failures and was supposed to be entering the fleet in large numbers two years ago.
"We're committed to the F-35," Gen. Schwartz said. "At the same time, it's not at any price."
He said the Air Force expects the manufacturer to reduce costs.
Gen. Schwartz warned that another $600 billion in cuts required under a congressional deficit deal are "untenable" and would cause severe damage to the Air Force's combat readiness.
"My shorthand for sequestration is surgery performed by a plumber - extremely high risk," he said.
Gen. Schwartz said that although the balance was shifting toward unmanned drones, they are not "anytime, anyplace machines." He predicted that aircraft flown by human pilots will be around for at least another 30 years.
"Would you be comfortable with a nuclear-laden remotely piloted aircraft?" he asked.
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