The US Air Force "got too small too fast and we've got to grow," says the service's top officer, who wants to expand the force by at least 33,000 airmen in the years to come. "We're at a risk level I’m not comfortable with," Gen. David Goldfein tells USA Today, warning that a "critical" personnel shortage has changed the way the force operates. "To most of the American people they still think they have the Air Force of Desert Storm, and we're not even close," he says. The total number of airmen—the term the service uses for both male and female personnel—now stands at 317,000. It's set to grow to at least 321,000 over the next few years, but Goldfein plans to tell Donald Trump, who has promised to expand the military, that the size should be at least 350,000 just to do what the Air Force is currently being asked to do.
Officials say that after years of cutbacks, the force is stretched too thin and unless there's a major increase in personnel, a move that would cost around $3 billion, it will have to cut back on missions. "If we don't have a way to get ourselves additional resources, you're going to look for alternate ways to do this—shedding of missions, becoming more efficient," a senior Air Force official tells Military.com. "Certainly in the posture we're in today, with the task that we have to do and the toll it takes on our airmen, it's a long-term unsustainable glide slope." (Trump says he's trying to negotiate a better price for new F-35 jets.)