WASHINGTON — Top Air Force officials on Tuesday defended proposed cuts to the Air National Guard that have drawn the strong opposition of 49 governors including Mike Beebe.

WASHINGTON — Top Air Force officials on Tuesday defended proposed cuts to the Air National Guard that have drawn the strong opposition of 49 governors including Mike Beebe.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said that budget constraints combined with a new strategic guidance requires the Air Force to trade size for quality.

“We will be a smaller, but superb force that maintains the agility, flexibility and readiness to engage a full range of contingencies,” Donley said.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 49 governors requested that he reconsider the budget proposal that they believe falls too heavily on the Air National Guard. Under the plan, the Guard would absorb 59 percent of the total aircraft budget reductions and about six times the personnel reductions of the active duty Air Force, they said.

“The nation’s governors strongly oppose the disproportionate cuts facing the Air National Guard,” the governors said.

While not responding directly to the governors, Donley and Schwartz faced similar questioning from members of the House panel on Tuesday. They defended the plan as providing the “right mix” of active duty and reserve components for the Air Force to manage future deployments.

They also suggested that active duty forces have taken deeper hits in recent years, noting that they bore the majority of recent reductions to F16 and F15C fleets.

Several members of the Armed Services Committee complained about proposed changes to Guard units in their respective states including New York, Texas and Iowa.

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, questioned the decision to remove the A10 mission from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith given that the A10s were placed there after a Base Realignment and Closure review found it to be an “ideal” environment for the aircraft.

Schwartz said that a factor in the decision was that the Air Force wanted to maintain a flying mission in as many states as possible and that there is a substantial flying presence in Little Rock.

Donley also said that Fort Smith would not be shuttered but would receive a new mission.

The Air Force plans to replace the A10 mission with an MQ-1/9 RSO element that would operate Predator/Reaper drones. The Little Rock Air Reserve would continue to have C-130s but would eventually replace the current aircraft with an older model.

After the hearing, Griffin said he was not satisfied with the response.

“It sounds like they did not directly consider any of the natural advantages Fort Smith provides but made a relatively blind decision to move the A10s,” he said.