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Air Force Growth Should Continue beyond 2016, James Says

In her last six months in office, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said she would keep both the Pentagon and Congress focused on the need to boost the service’s end strength to as many as 325,000 airmen.

The Air Force’s active-duty end strength is slated to increase from its current level of 311,000 to 317,000 by October, but to relieve an overworked force and to expand capabilities in cyber and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, additional personnel will be needed, James said.

“I am absolutely certain that we need somewhere on the order of 321,000 to 325,000 active-duty airmen,” James told Air Force Times last week. “It would be fantastic to have more than that. If we could have that many, though, I think it would go an enormous way to helping with some of the strain that we are feeling.”

Additional personnel would help address the severe shortage in maintainers, an occupation that is about 4,000 airmen short. An increase in end strength also would boost the number of pilots and other personnel needed to fly unmanned aerial systems, as well as cyber and nuclear missile airmen.

In May, then-Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the Air Force needs between 40,000 and 60,000 additional airmen to fulfill all of the missions it is being asked to carry out. “Every problem we have in growing, in modernizing, increasing mission capability, is manpower related,” Welsh said.

James said reaching an active-duty end strength of 325,000 is an achievable goal, according to the story. “It is a blend of what I consider to be realism, as well as what I think will go a long way to helping our Air Force regain some readiness health,” she said.

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