Military Review

Quality over Quantity: US Air Force Fleet Development Plans


The Pentagon and Congress are working on plans for the development of the air force for the next year and the long term. Given the current situation and the expected threats, the military department offers a set of key measures and solutions, but they do not fully suit the legislators. This leads to controversy and potentially threatens the future of the Air Force. However, the two departments have already found common ground on some issues and look forward to further progress in this area.

Actual problems

According to available data, the US Air Force fleet includes approx. 5500 aircraft of all classes and types. This number includes combat, auxiliary and special aircraft and helicopters, various drones, gliders, etc., both in active operation and in storage. Such quantitative indicators are in line with the plans of the Pentagon and the tasks set.

The combat readiness of the Air Force is of great importance. According to Defense News, at the beginning of FY2022. (autumn of calendar 2021), 71,5% of the equipment in service was suitable for solving training and combat missions. A year earlier, this figure was 1,2% higher.

At the same time, we are talking only about the average indicators for the Air Force as a whole. Some samples aviation technicians demonstrate less readiness and higher rates of its decline. For example, in the fleet of F-22A fighters and B-1B strategic bombers in recent years, only 50-60 percent were ready for immediate missions. technology, and this figure has been slowly declining.

Such processes do not yet have a critical impact on the state and capabilities of the Air Force as a whole. However, they cannot be ignored - otherwise, risks will arise both for military aviation and for national security as a whole. In this regard, over the past few years, the Air Force and the Pentagon have been making various plans and trying to get them through Congress.

Quality at the price of quantity

At the beginning of April, curious data about the possible plans of the Pentagon were heard in the Senate. One of the senators, referring to the documents received, said that the military department is going to decommission 1468 aircraft over the next five years, 369 of them this year. During the same period, they want to buy only 467 new ones. All this will lead to a reduction in the fleet by 1001 units. or 15%.

The Air Force did not comment on the statements in the Senate. At the same time, there was immediately a reason to doubt the sounded information. The fact is that the military budget for the current financial year provides for the withdrawal of only 150 units. technology. Another 100 units. transferred to other departments. In total, the Air Force must lose 250 vehicles - which is 119 less than what was approved in the Senate. How such a discrepancy arose, and where the information about the reduction of the fleet by 1001 units came from, is unknown.

However, in recent years the Pentagon has indeed proposed to reduce the active fleet and the reserve by abandoning obsolete equipment. Planes and helicopters should go under reduction, which have not yet exhausted their resources, but no longer meet all current requirements and are "unable to survive in the battles of the future." The money saved should go to promising technology.

For example, in the original draft military budget for FY2023. it was proposed to write off 21 A-10C attack aircraft and replace them with the same number of F-16 fighter-bombers. 36 existing F-22A fighters do not meet the requirements for combat use and are used as training ones. 33 of them are proposed to be withdrawn from service. The Air Force has 31 AWACS E-3 aircraft; Of these, only 16 are going to remain in service.

It is also proposed to write off other types of aircraft and helicopters, but in this case we are talking only about the planned renewal of the fleet. Older planes and helicopters will be put into reserve or sent for recycling, and new products and/or modern modifications will come in their place. At the same time, a fundamental change in the number of equipment is not expected.

In the process of approval

In mid-June, the Pentagon's proposals passed through the Senate Defense Committee. The legislators only partially agreed with the plans for the development and re-equipment of the Air Force. Some clauses about the reduction of technology have been approved, while others will have to be abandoned.

The Senate Committee approved the decommissioning of 21 A-10C attack aircraft. At the same time, aircraft that retain a significant part of the resource should be transferred to the National Guard. The purchase of F-16 fighters to replace attack aircraft is also allowed. Thus, the senators agreed with the Pentagon, which believes that the A-10C no longer meets current requirements and can be decommissioned.

A proposal to write off 33 F-22A fighter jets used as trainers has not been approved. The Senate fears that such a move will hit the training system for personnel. In this regard, the Air Force must submit a detailed plan for the development of the fleet of training aircraft and the training of personnel. If this document suits lawmakers, then the Pentagon will be able to decommission its F-22A.

The Senate committee as a whole is not opposed to decommissioning the obsolete E-3 aircraft. However, it is necessary to take measures to create a replacement for them as soon as possible so that the Air Force is not left without critical equipment. Due to savings on decommissioned E-3s, it is proposed to increase funding for the promising E-7 Wedgetail project. However, such steps do not exclude possible problems. The fact is that the experienced E-7s are expected only in 2027 or later - four years after the start of decommissioning of the front-line E-3s. As a result, any delay with the new project threatens the entire AWACS fleet.

The Senate Committee approved not only the decommissioning and replacement of equipment, but also an increase in the purchase of serial samples in the next fiscal year 2023. Thus, plans for the acquisition of F-35A fighters were increased by 7 units, and the Air Force will receive 40 such aircraft in a year. Provision is made for the purchase of 10 EW EC-37B aircraft. The Air Force will be allowed to buy 20 HH-60W helicopters - double their original request.

It should be noted that the draft military budget, after passing through the Senate Committee, does not provide for a radical reduction in the total number of aircraft. We are talking only about dozens of aircraft or UAVs of several types. It is easy to see that all this does not correspond to the April information about the upcoming write-off of 1001 units over five years.

In mid-July, the White House commented on all these processes and proposals. The Office of Management and Budget of the President's office said it strongly protested some of the Congressional proposals. Legislators are blocking the White House's efforts to reduce "low priority platforms", and in the context of the Air Force, this leads to an increase in the budget by $ 840 million. It is noted that the draft military budget was prepared taking into account all needs and possibilities, and any increase must be justified.

Striving for the best

Thus, at present, the US Air Force fleet as a whole is in good condition and basically meets the requirements and wishes of the command. At the same time, the situation differs in different directions. For example, tactical aviation is distinguished by high combat readiness, while the state of strategic aviation is far from ideal.

The Pentagon analyzes the current situation and proposes various measures for the development of the Air Force. These proposals take into account the state of existing technology, the processes for creating a new one, as well as current and expected threats. And all the proposed measures are reflected in the draft military budget, which is now going through all the necessary authorities.

According to the latest news, the Pentagon and Congress plan to keep the size of the Air Force fleet at about the current level, although some reductions are possible. At the same time, a constant and systematic renewal of the park is necessary, and not only because of the development of the resource. Perspective threats and challenges are forcing us to pay more and more attention to new models, as well as to abandon obsolete or close to losing the necessary potential.

Apparently, in the near future in the military budget for 2023 FY. and in its part reserved for the Air Force, certain changes will again be made. The volume of purchases of new aircraft or the rate of decommissioning of old ones may change. However, the general trends are likely to remain the same. The course to improve quality indicators will be maintained, incl. through reasonable reductions in quantity.
Photos used:
The US Department of Defense

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  1. alexey sidykin
    alexey sidykin 6 August 2022 06: 43
    Reading the author like this in the author’s Air Force is a pure blessing, but US analysts are far from being in a rosy mood about the quality of the available equipment. I wish there was a better explanation
    1. Kestrel
      Kestrel 6 August 2022 18: 48
      I also went to read some sensible review, but I received an article by Ryabov from the Chamber of Weights and Measures :)

      Regarding the situation in the US Air Force, I just recently saw a very curious video about the situation with tanker aircraft. The old KS-135 Stratotanker began to be replaced from the mid-10s with new KS-46s, but as a result, the latter are practically inapplicable in real conditions due to multiple problems with software and other systems. For example, in the new tanker, the glass cabin of the fuel rod operator was replaced with a set of black-and-white video cameras - as a result, the crew encountered a strong narrowing of viewing angles, glare in sunny weather, and a strong violation of the sense of depth when looking at the situation through the monitor.
  2. TermNachTer
    TermNachTer 6 August 2022 08: 05
    Given the lobbying and greed of mattress corporations, all of the above is a set of good intentions, in reality it will be very sad. Plus CBO, which pumps money out of the mattress budget like a pump.
  3. Kuzja
    Kuzja 6 August 2022 08: 22
    Strange layouts they have there in terms of prospects. Ideally, the most obsolete part should have been sent to the Khokhlyatsky firebox, demanding in return from the congress money for the purchase and development of the latest technology. But tm, apparently, it is better to see. Our rainbow...
  4. Thrifty
    Thrifty 6 August 2022 09: 13
    I wonder why f22A cannot be upgraded, or is it really very expensive?
    1. Andrei from Chelyabinsk
      Andrei from Chelyabinsk 6 August 2022 11: 23
      Quote: Thrifty
      I wonder why f22A cannot be upgraded

      It is very likely that not everything is in order with the "flagship of world fighter aviation"
      The Americans created a super fighter, created, and built only 187 serial (195 in total) under the mute "world peace, the USSR is no more, we will make a lighter, cheaper aircraft." It seems to be, what's really complicated here - to create a simpler aircraft using the technologies already available, but the F-35 is still not in service, it treats childhood illnesses. The question arises - have the technologies been worked out? Then - the world has changed and, in general, it is necessary to replenish the fleet of heavy fighters, but the United States is not reanimating the F-22, but is churning out the F-15. It's as if we, having put the Su-35 on the wing and mastered it, suddenly began to produce the Su-27 ... And now the early withdrawal from the Air Force is being pedaled. What is it for?
      1. Wildcat
        Wildcat 6 August 2022 13: 22
        it seems that not everything is in order with the "flagship of world fighter aviation"
        The Americans created a super fighter, created, and built only 187 serial (195 of all) under the mute "world peace, the USSR is no more, we will make a lighter cheap aircraft"

        There was a slightly different story under Obama/Gates.
        Gates: "Among all my decisions of this kind, of particular interest was the completion of the production of the F-22 stealth fighter, limiting it to 187 aircraft. I was even given the nickname "F-22 killer", but in fact this program was constantly reduced over time: after all, according to the 1986 project, it was supposed to build 750 aircraft. For almost twenty-five years, this program has become almost like Julius Caesar - many hands strove to inflict more and more wounds on it. Every secretary of defense, except me, approached her with a knife. Manufacturers, by the way, were hedged - they had suppliers and subcontractors in forty-four states, thanks to which eighty-eight senators consistently supported the program. It is easy to imagine how bloody the battle to stop the program turned out to be.

        In addition to the cost, I had other complaints about the F-22. This magnificent device was intended mainly to fight similar fifth-generation aircraft (presumably Chinese), to conduct air battles and suppress complex air defense systems. But we have been fighting for ten years now, and this plane has never flown on a combat mission. I asked the F-22 defenders - even if a conflict breaks out with China, where are we going to base this short-range aircraft? Do the defenders of the program really think that the Chinese will not destroy air bases in Japan and other neighboring countries if American planes take off from there? As for the rest, of course, one cannot but agree with the pilots - this is really the best fighter in the world. After a tough "fight" in which the President had to threaten his veto, the Senate voted 58 to 40 in July to support our proposal to stop production, stopping at 187 aircraft. The House of Representatives eventually agreed as well.
        Well, at the same time under Obama "we must speed up the procurement of fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters and acquire more F/A-18 fighters to fully man our carrier air wings until all F-35s are operational; 700 million dollars will be spent on the deployment of new elements of the missile defense system; 200 million is needed to upgrade six destroyers and equip them with the Aegis system; it is also necessary to finance the construction of additional destroyers DDG-51 of the Arleigh Burke type (the first such destroyer left the slipway under Reagan, however, after a slight modernization, it still remains the best ship of its class); the budget is designed to triple the number of students in our military cyber schools; it includes the acquisition of a next-generation aerial tanker and the first steps to replace nuclear submarines with ballistic missiles. In addition, we intend to assess the Air Force's need for a new bomber."

        Although, judging by the memoirs of Gates, the Air Force - from pilots to command - really wanted even more F22.

        But Gates, with the full support of Congress, raked in urgent needs (which Gates is actually very proud of, IMHO with a little theatrical effects, including tears and kneeling .... but the effects worked, admittedly, Congress allocated money quickly and a lot):
        - MCIs (indeed, an explosive growth in quantity, speed of manufacture and delivery), "loss reduction up to 50%"

        - UAVs ("no, dear Minister of Defense, we don't need more UAVs, that's enough ... Otherwise, if we make them as many as you want ... otherwise they will simply cover the sun, and this is inconvenient");

        - "bringing to life" medicine, from "well, quickly in Afghanistan they switched from a two-hour standard for evacuating the wounded to a one-hour one", Walter Reed Hospital "repairs, less bureaucracy and more comfort and life-giving breams of the administration" right through "" to funeral ceremonies at the request of relatives (from closed to solemn), with payment for flights and so on (well, there is a movie "Taking Chance").

        do not reanimate the F-22, but stamp the F-15. It's as if we, having put the Su-35 on the wing and mastered it, suddenly began to produce the Su-27 ... And now the early withdrawal from the Air Force is being pedaled. What is it for?
        what is and will be, in the coming years, will be enough, in their opinion, both for us and for China. The priority is not even fighters, but machines with an emphasis on strike capabilities, F35 and B21.
        Instead of F22, there will eventually be a 6th generation.
        1. alexey sidykin
          alexey sidykin 7 August 2022 09: 46
          It sounds especially great that American pilots are not enthusiastic about the 35s, which are still being finalized.
    2. dzvero
      dzvero 6 August 2022 11: 32
      They say that modernization is needed to fit into the current Air Force control scheme. But for this it is necessary to change almost all avionics. Apparently, "just inserting" an additional module is not enough. And, most likely, everything rests on the price of the issue.
      1. Andrei from Chelyabinsk
        Andrei from Chelyabinsk 6 August 2022 11: 35
        Quote: dzvero
        They say that modernization is needed to fit into the current Air Force control scheme. But for this it is necessary to change almost all avionics.

        That's strange, you see - for the F-15 and F-16 God remembers what year of manufacture this is possible, but for the F-22 it is too expensive.
        1. dzvero
          dzvero 6 August 2022 12: 02
          I strongly suspect that the avionics of the F-22 is fundamentally different from that of the F-15 and F-16. The latter were modernized "with little blood" as they were produced (the extreme "blocks" are essentially different machines). And the "tricks" of the F-22 will require development from scratch to meet new standards. And judging by the fact that they already want to gradually disable them, the game is clearly not worth the candle.
          In fact, the situation in American aviation is interesting. Replacing the F-15 / F-16 (F-22 / F-35) bundle is frankly a failure. New machines have yet to get off the drawing board into the shops. So we have to continue the release of oldies MiG-25/MiG-21 sorry, F-15 / F-16.
          1. Flanker692
            Flanker692 7 August 2022 22: 14
            most (>20) of these 33 vehicles are those that were damaged during a tropical hurricane at one of the bases. They are no longer residents due to the lack of an assembly line. The rest - according to tradition from the first batch or with some defects (for example, a hard landing on the belly as a result of an error), which brought them into the "training" and which were not covered by the modernization programs, but they are for the F-22. And the next planned one should be completed in 2024 for those vehicles for which it is advisable (every year some of them are taken out of combat duty for this purpose).
            With the F-35, in short: in the 3s, the problems were serious and very serious - overweight by a whole ton, restrictions on maneuvers, problems with software, etc. etc. In Lockheed, after the "debriefing", they fired 4/22 of the top management responsible for the program and poured another fucking cloud into improvements (as with the F-XNUMX once). Now, right now, everything is quite good: hundreds on combat duty, hundreds of thousands of flight hours. the price of a flight hour has not yet reached its goals, but has made a giant leap for the better and continues to decline.
            The F-35 will remain in the US Air Force until at least 2050. The plans are now. I can't find failure here.
            If the F-15EX is an old man, then who is the Su-35 then? The US Air Force has not been buying F-16s for a long time, as far as I know. All new F-16s are exported and have been produced for a long time significantly less than the F-35.
            1. dzvero
              dzvero 8 August 2022 12: 31
              If everything is so good with the F-35, then why hasn't it been officially adopted yet? Maybe due to the fact that there is no alternative on the assembly line? Plus ~800 comments of varying severity. Plus, there was a problem with the turbine blades at the 600th hour.
              The main problem with the F-35 is too much innovation at once. Hence the shortcomings, and childhood illnesses. The only plus is a reserve for the future for engineers and a more intelligible idea from the command for the next generation of fighters.
              About the F-15EX and Su-35 - both are the product of the modernization of the "oldies". Very good cars.
              1. Flanker692
                Flanker692 8 August 2022 19: 50
                what does it mean not adopted? it has long reached the level of combat readiness and has been put on combat duty, including in the US Air Force. Specifically, in the states there is a complex bureaucratic procedure for deploying "mass production" of weapons (so that the military-industrial complex does not get fucked up).

                The F-35 has not yet reached the level of Milestone C. Now the "pre-production" stage is ~ 130-150 vehicles per year (we would like such pre-production rates), because. tests have not yet been conducted at a test site specially built for this purpose. In the autumn of this 2022, the first test tests of the test site will take place, then the tests of the aircraft at the test site (they have such red tape, but it’s clear what the aircraft will be capable of). According to the existing requirements for Milestone C F-35 must make 64 flights there. The new training ground simulates an environment with promising aviation and air defense of Russia / China. According to the plan, they will take place in the summer of 2023, and after that, Congress will be able to reasonably allocate money for "mass production" (up to ~ 250-300 aircraft per year). I remind you that according to open sources, there were no more than 35 Su-150s ... there were.
                Regarding the 800 comments of varying severity ... do you even know in what year this list appeared? Are you sure he still is? Now built 700+ aircraft, 600+ flight hours. How much do we all know about the list of remarks on the Su-000? what caused the first production copy to fall? how many were produced serially? 57+ will be? what is their common ground? Open and closed programs create the illusion of success and failure.
    3. Engineer
      Engineer 6 August 2022 19: 26
      It is possible to upgrade the F-22.

      Any aircraft upgrade ranges from very expensive to insanely expensive

      In the spring there was infa that these first 33 raptors would be written off to free up funds for NGAD
      Maybe they changed their mind, maybe they changed their mind inconclusively. Like decided to bring to the standard later.
  5. iouris
    iouris 6 August 2022 14: 52
    Plans, plans, plans.
    The economy is cracking. Finances sing romances. But the main thing is that the social sphere is cracking.
    By the way, everywhere.
    Hello, brave new world after global transformation!
    Are you already chipped?