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​The Air Force’s share of the Fiscal 2017 budget request will invest in the health of the service’s maintenance force, which is “critical” to readiness, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. The budget request, which will be released on Feb. 9, will add a currently undisclosed amount of billets to build up the maintenance force to “keep our Air Force aircraft ready,” he added. Carter visited Nellis AFB, Nev., on Feb. 4 during a Red Flag exercise to highlight the high operations tempo in the service, and the need to have maintainers keep the aircraft flying. “As far as maintenance is concerned, you’re in a maintenance hangar right now. I think that’s important, because the way you keep readiness is training crew proficiencies but also maintenance,” Carter said. “So the guys who are here, … who are maintaining these aircraft, that is absolutely critical.” (Carter transcript.)