Through global air superiority, airmen are protecting seaports around the world that receive critical supplies for our military and are controlling the sky and space above any battlefield, making sure our boots on the ground forces are protected.
Through global reach, airmen are flying cargo to locations around the globe within hours.
Through global strike, airmen are targeting enemy sites and terrorists with an array of weapons.
Through global reconnaissance, airmen are operating satellites and space systems, warning us of impending threats.
And through global surveillance, airmen are sustaining and protecting the hundreds of satellites that keep our phones and ATMs working and our businesses humming.
A force used so intensively the past 26 years starting with Desert Storm needs the resources to sustain it. Unfortunately, budget caps put in place in 2010 remain, causing a serious strain on the Air Force and an annual budget shortfall of nearly $11 billion.
So what can’t the Air Force do for our country in the future given this current budget environment?
Airmen may not be able to continue to drop 70 percent of all bombs on the Islamic State group targets.
Air Force airlifters around the world may not be able to deliver cargo to our soldiers every two and a half minutes like they do today.
Or provide sufficient combat air patrol defenses around our nation’s cities.
Or sustain at-the-ready two legs of the nation’s nuclear triad with our Minuteman missiles and strategic bombers.
In short, despite greater mission requirements and a force that is 30 percent smaller than during Desert Storm, the Air Force is not as ready or as modern as it needs to be.
The Air Force has downsized 40,000 personnel and its aircraft average 27 years old. Its refueling tankers are more than 50 years old; its bombers, trainers and helicopters are over 40; and their fighters are more than 30 years old.
So here is the problem: The Air Force is unable to operate at the tempo our security policy demands unless more resources are available. It is that simple.
Since 2010, the world has grown more dangerous and volatile. Yet the Budget Control Act of 2011 left the Air Force with artificial budget caps. This weakens the force by reducing its readiness, cuts needed research and development of advanced technologies, and delays the acquisition of new weaponry.
Without a new budget agreement, the choices that the Air Force confronts are perilous.
Which mission should the Air Force stop doing? Which area of the world should the Air Force forgo protecting? Which humanitarian mission should the Air Force ignore? What have you done for the country lately, U.S. Air Force?
A whole lot. But if we stay on our current trajectory of inadequate budgets, aging equipment and insufficient personnel, that won’t be the case in the future.
Keith Zuegel is senior director of government relations for the Air Force Association.
Peter Huessy is director for strategic deterrent studies for The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.