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​Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work speaks at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Desert Storm 25 Year Commemoration Dinner in Washington, D.C., March 9, 2016. DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee.

​Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work thinks the Air Force is being driven into a “bad place” by excessive cuts, but he’s not sure what to do about it. Speaking at an AFA Mitchell Institute event Wednesday night, Work said, “Without question, the part of the joint portfolio which has taken the brunt of the defense drawdown is the US Air Force and our capacity in aerospace combat power.” He continued, “We have told ourselves that the reason why this is okay is because of the [capability] of fifth-gen aircraft, primarily our F-22s” and F-35s, which he re-dubbed the “Battle Network … BN-22 and BN-35,” to recognize that they are “unbelievable sensor platforms, both of which have a battlefield utility far beyond” simply being fighters. But the F-22 buy was “truncated” and the F-35 buy has slipped from a planned 80 to 60 to 48 per year. “If you ask me, if I had an extra, say $30 billion, would I put it all on F-35 or would I try to amp up some of our fourth-gen stuff? And I’m not certain how I’d answer that question.” Work said if USAF were to drop from today’s 54 fighter squadrons down to 45, but “they’d all be F-35s. I’m not certain I would say that’s a good thing, simply because the Air Force optempo is driving the force into a bad place. So I ​don’t know, I’d really have to look at that.” He said he thinks USAF will have to “live with” a force of mixed fifth- and fourth-gen fighters “until 2040, possibly beyond. And, so, I really worry about the size of the Air Force.”