(By Mark Luckie; data courtesy office of Sen. Jim Webb)

With the Pentagon moving to cut top brass, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) may have a good target in mind: the Air Force.

At a confirmation hearing this week for Gen. Martin Dempsey, the nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Webb pointed out that the Air Force has more four-star generals than any other service. While it’s roughly 40 percent smaller than the Army, the Air Force has the same number of three-star generals.

For every 1,000 active-duty members, the Air Force has one general or flag officer; the Marine Corps has one for every 2,300.

All of which prompted Webb, a Marine combat veteran, to issue a statement after the hearing saying that the Air Force is “over-generalled” — not exactly a winning description at a time when the Pentagon plans to get rid of generals and admirals during tough fiscal times.

“Such inconsistencies require explanation,” Webb said, announcing that he would hold a hearing on the issue.

Dempsey, at the hearing, said he took Webb’s point, and would look at the numbers and “determine if we’ve got our ratios right.”

But among some in the Air Force say it’s a bunch of baloney. Their argument is that the Air Force is a more technical force, and that it stands to reason that it would have more flag officers.

The law allotting the number of generals and other flag officers to each service is based on a service’s total number of officers, not its active-duty end strength, said retired Lt. Gen. Michael Dunn, president of the Air Force Association. As a result, he said, Webb’s logic is flawed, and based on the same arguments that tend to come up every several years.

“To me, this proposal doesn’t make any sense,” he said, adding that “it’s almost always a Marine” who brings up such arguments.

For the Air Force, the criticism might also sting a little because, even with more four-star generals than any of the other services, it has long been underrepresented in the most prestigious and important military commands -- a list that includes the top jobs in the Pentagon and the major geographic commanders such as U.S. European Command or U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I would argue that it’s been skewed,” Dunn said.

Dunn noted that Webb is the son of a career Air Force officer, and that the senator would likely raise that point at the hearing.

But that alone doesn’t seem sufficient to allay Webb’s concerns.

“This is a question of how you properly manage the force,” Webb told Dempsey.