Air Force needs to grow to 350,000 Published Dec. 22, 2016 By Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In ongoing efforts to size and shape the force to current and future requirements, Air Force officials explained why the service needs to grow to 350,000 active-duty Airmen over the next seven years. The need to increase the end strength comes from the recognition that the Air Force is out of balance with ongoing and projected global demands for airpower, senior officials explained. “The risk of manpower shortage is masked and placed on the backs of Airmen,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “Because if you go back and look at the data and the way we measure readiness, did we taxi? Yes. Did we launch? Yes. Did we make the deployed destination and accomplish the mission? Yes. “What’s masked is the fact that the shortage of people has fundamentally changed the way we do business in terms of the operational risk day to day.” If sequestration caps are removed and additional funding becomes available, the Air Force will consider growing to 350,000 active-duty Airmen during the next seven years. The service is currently on track to grow to 321,000 by the end of 2017, and 324,000 in the following years. The erosion of readiness started decades ago, but has been exacerbated by sequestration and a continuous high operations tempo, explained Air Force officials. Throughout the last 10 years, the Air Force made steep cuts in overall end strength, especially in the combat air forces. The Air Force has balanced risk across the force while maintaining the agility, flexibility and readiness to engage a full range of contingencies, senior leaders said. “Additional manning is needed not just to meet air requirements, but to support the joint fight,” Goldfein said. “So when you look through the lens of growth in the United States military, we look through a joint lens and through that lens we see that the Air Force is always a part of every mission. Therefore, you can't have growth in one without growth in the Air Force." Officials explained the Air Force must continue to grow the force to address key capability gaps and recover and sustain a stronger force for today's missions in the nuclear, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, maintenance and support career fields. It must also continue to resource growing remotely piloted aircraft and cyber mission requirements. As part of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request, the service plans to grow the active duty force to approximately 321,000 Airmen by 2018. Additional funding from Congress would be necessary for this growth, but details would have to be prioritized during future budgets submissions, officials said. While the Air Force acknowledges the demand for more Airmen, officials also commented that it will take time to recruit, access and train additional Airmen. “This is not something you can do immediately,” Goldfein said. “It’s actually something you’ve got to do over time. This is something we would build over the next seven years in a steady climb.” Ultimately, the Air Force wants to reduce stress on Airmen and ensure we have enough people to support the joint fight and accomplish the missions the nation requires, said Air Force officials.