ARLINGTON, Va. — An Air Force plan to eliminate 40,000 personnel over five years is driven by advances in technology and the need to cut personnel costs, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday.

Speaking at a “Town Hall” meeting Friday at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was asked how the Air Force’s plan to cut among active-duty personnel, the Air Force Reserve, the Air Guard and Air Force civilians would affect the way the military fights as a joint force.

Rumsfeld said personnel costs have skyrocketed, with taxpayers paying $84 billion in health costs for active-duty and retired servicemembers.

“What we see are the costs are going up and up and up on the personnel side, which is accelerating the incentive to find things we can do that are less manpower-intensive,” he said.

He also said the Air Force needs to strike a balance between maintaining current aircraft and investing in new aircraft that can hit more targets and require less maintenance.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that it used to take 10 Air Force planes to destroy one bridge, but now one plane can take out 80 bridges.

“When you look at those kinds of numbers and the capacity to perform then you can see where it is reasonable to say to yourself, ‘can we do that with a smaller overall force and still provide to the nation the forces needed,’ ” Pace said.

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