Air Force chief: U.S. military walking "very tough line" amid budget cuts

With more than 3,000 combat planes and nearly 690,000 personnel, the U.S. Air Force is the world's largest. But with massive government spending cuts kicking in, and the war in Afghanistan coming to an end, the Pentagon is being asked to downsize.

The cuts for the Air Force -- $20 billion from what was planned three years ago -- are requiring "some very difficult choices," Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, said on "CBS This Morning."

So with all those cuts -- can the U.S. remain competitive with the Chinese and Russians investing more in their military?

"I refuse to believe that anyone in our government is not going to allow the United States not to have the greatest military on the Earth, and nobody who is wearing a uniform will keep their mouth shut if that starts to happen," Welsh said. "I don't think that's an issue."

Welsh, asked what the Air Force is to do at this point, said, "The key for all the services -- not just the Air Force -- is balancing the capability, capacity, and readiness we need to be able to answer the nation's call today and be able to do it 10 to 20 years from now with the technology that's going to be required to succeed then."

He added, "It's a very tough line we're trying to walk. ... There are decisions we have to make as a nation in some cases. It's not easy work."

Those cuts are impacting military personnel. Asked about that impact, Welsh said, "The strain on our people is there all the time. It's been for the last 13, 14 years and some pretty high-tempo operations over time."

"Nobody's talking about cutting pay," he added. "We've had phenomenal support and increasing pay and compensation. ... We have to control the rate of growth. ... We've just got to be careful about being able to afford our military over time, which is part of the solution to the nation's economic issues."

For more with Welsh, watch his full "CTM" interview above.