The Air Force is on track to be some 700 combat pilots short in the coming years, as more pilots vote with their feet to take more lucrative and less stressful jobs with U.S. airlines.

"The airlines are forecasted to be hiring a lot more," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday. "They already are."

James and new Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein were briefing reporters on the state of the service. Goldfein called the looming shortage a "crisis," and James said in response the Air Force is going to identify two locations for additional training units to increase the number of F-16 pilots, and offer bigger retention bonuses to pilots who fly drones. The Air Force calls them remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA.

"Here's the reason I believe it's a crisis: air superiority is not an American birthright. It's actually something you have to fight for and maintain," Goldfein said.

"We are pleased to announce that no later than October 1, we will pay a $35,000 RPA pilot retention bonus for those who are at the end of their active-duty service commitment, and who agree to stay with us," James said. That's a $10,000 increase over the current retention bonus.

But Goldfein said pilot pay is only part of the problem. He said there's a direct relationship between readiness, how often pilots train and fly, and job satisfaction and morale.

"Pilots who don't fly, are not going to stay with the company," he said.

Both James and Goldfein warned Congress not to pass a continuing resolution that locks the Air Force into last year's spending levels, which would be about $1.3 billion less than the fiscal 2017 budget request.

James ticked off a long list of more than 60 Air Force acquisition and upgrade programs that would be adversely affected, everything from building enough new bombs to replenishing the inventory used in the war against the Islamic State, to upgrading planes including MQ-9 Reaper drones, C-130 cargo planes, and B-2, and B-52 bombers.

"Make no mistake, we will be unable to execute the defense strategic guidance and perform these missions to the level the nation requires if we return to a sequestered budget," Goldfein said.