Secretary: Air Force could get smaller due to budget cuts

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force might have to shed people to absorb Pentagon budget cuts, Michael Donley, the service's secretary, said Monday.

The service now has about 330,000 active-duty personnel and about 164,000 Reserve and Air National Guard troops.

"It will be very difficult to hold that end strength going forward" as the annual military budget shrinks, Donley told reporters during an Air Force Association conference here.

The military services are in talks with senior Pentagon officials about how each will implement their share of $350 billion in Pentagon budget cuts mandated in the August debt-reduction deal.

Donley held his cards close on Monday, telling reporters the services were asked by Pentagon brass to draw up various plans for how and from where they might implement the cuts.

He declined to comment on specifics, but during a morning speech to all conference attendees, Donley vowed to protect a range of items, including the F-35 fighter, a new bomber plane, a new aerial tanker fleet and personnel programs.