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U.S. Air Force to cut great number of servicemen, aircraft amid budget cuts

(Xinhua)

16:59, February 04, 2012

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Air Force will cut about 10,000 airmen and 286 aircraft next year as part of the defense budget cuts envisioned by the Obama administration, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said Friday.

At a Pentagon news conference, Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz detailed force structure changes to be made next year, which Donley described as "hard, but manageable."

The Air Force will lay off 9,900 servicemen -- 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Air Guardsmen and 900 Air Force Reservists -- next year. Meanwhile, it will cut 286 aircraft, including 123 fighters, 133 mobility aircraft and 30 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, the secretary said.

Among the fighter aircraft, 102 A-10 close-air support aircraft will be retired, which leads to questions of whether there will be enough close-air assets left to support ground forces.

"There are still going to be 246 A-10s left in the inventory," Schwartz said. "We are doing close-air support with B-52s, with B-1s, certainly with F-16s and F-15Es and AC-130 gunships."

Schwartz said the bottom line is leaving plenty of assets to offer pinpoint close-air support. "The United States Army and the United States Marine Corps and our own battlefield airmen can rely on having plenty of close-air support provided by the United States Air Force from above," he said.

The bomber force, cyber capabilities and nuclear force will also be protected from the cuts, while keeping enough remotely piloted aircraft to field 65 combat air patrols with the ability to surge to 85, Donley said.

The downsizing of the Air Force is part of a plan to cut overall government spending, including a reduction of approximately 487 billion U.S. dollars in the defense budget over the next decade, to deal with the worsening debt situation.

On Jan. 27, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled the Pentagon's budget request for the 2013 fiscal year, including plans to significantly cut defense spending and Army personnel at a time of fiscal constraint.

The Pentagon's base budget request is set at 525 billion dollars with an additional 88.4 billion dollars for overseas contingency operations, reduced from 531 billion dollars and 115 billion dollars respectively for this fiscal year.

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