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Conaton Highlights Budget Challenges: The costs of weapons system sustainment and manpower are of great concern to the Air Force as it tries to harmonize tightening budgets and burgeoning demands, Undersecretary Erin Conaton said Thursday. This sustainment "is a huge challenge" and "makes my head hurt just even thinking about how to get our arms around it," she said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies-sponsored talk in Washington, D.C. "The new [air]planes coming in are, in general, more expensive to maintain," she noted. While active duty end strength has decreased by seven percent since 2004 from about 360,000 to 332,000, "personnel costs have gone up 16 percent," during that span, said Conaton. An internal look at what would happen if the Air Force kept its funding allocation constant for manpower over the next five years, yet personnel costs continued to rise as the trend has been, showed that the service would have to get rid of about 47,000 personnel to stay within its budget, she said. "We have got to do something to get those costs under control," she said. (CSIS webpage of event, with link to audio)