The Air Force plans to add 4,020 active-duty airmen in fiscal 2016, according to budget documents released Monday.
Active-duty end strength would increase from 312,980 in fiscal 2015 to 317,000 next year, a 1.3 percent increase.
The proposed 2016 increase would be the first increase since the Air Force began steeply cutting its ranks under the 2014 force management program. The Air Force began fiscal 2014 with 330,700 active-duty airmen, and by Nov. 6, that number had dropped to 316,500. The 2015 levels of 312,980 are the lowest the service has ever had, except for 1947, its first year in existence, when it had 305,827 airmen.
The active-duty increases would provide 900 more personnel to support the Air Force's nuclear missile enterprise.
The Air Force would is also planning to add 400 active-duty airmen to help man the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the budget said would bolster intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and command and control capabilities.
And the budget said the Air Force wants to restore 600 F-15C positions as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, which was unveiled last year to counter Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The Air Force originally proposed retiring 51 F-15C Eagles — many of which are at RAF Lakenheath in England — in the 2015 budget released last year. But after Russia seized Crimea and began stoking unrest in Ukraine's eastern region, the White House and Congress announced the $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative, which extended the stay of the F-15Cs by one year.
The service also calls for 200 more active-duty cyber operations and cyber warfare personnel, reflecting the growing importance of online warfare.
"It's not just the future of warfare, it's the present of warfare," said cybersecurity expert and author of the book "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar" Peter Singer. "We're seeing it integrated in every conflict out there. Even ones that are seemingly low-tech, like the Syria conflict, both sides of the civil war have has evolving cyber elements."
A wide variety of state and non-state actors are now employing cyberwarfare, Singer said. More than 100 nations -- both large and small -- have created some kind of cyber military organization, he said. And terrorist groups, terrorist sympathizers, cyber criminals and "individual hackers out just for fun" are also attempting to hack systems.
For example, an unknown group of hackers supporting the Islamic State terrorist group embarrassed U.S. Central Command last month when they hacked the command's Twitter and YouTube accounts and used them to post pro-IS propaganda.
The remaining 1,900 newly added active-duty airmen would support training programs and other efforts to that will help the Air Force reshape its workforce to meet future missions and requirements, the budget said.
The total force, including Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, would grow to 491,700, an increase of 6,620 personnel or 1.4 percent from this year.
The Reserve's end strength would increase by 2,100, to 69,200 in 2016, a 3.1 percent increase. The budget said the Reserve's growth would help it handle its increased F-16, C-17 and KC-46A mission support duties, which were transferred from the active duty as part of last year's active-duty force cuts.
The Reserve's F-16 increase would add 200 full-time and 925 traditional reserve positions at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Its C-17 missions in Air Mobility Command would receive 460 more traditional reserve billets. And the KC-46A tanker would receive 415 additional traditional reserve authorizations at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
The Guard would grow by 500, to 105,500, a 0.5 percent increase.
The budget also would provide for across-the-board increases of 1.3 percent for military pay, 1.5 percent for Basic Allowance for Housing, and 3.4 percent for Basic Allowance for Subsistence.