Air Force Outlook for Modernizing Fleet Likely to Prompt Showdown with Capitol Hill

Air Force Outlook for Modernizing Fleet Likely to Prompt Showdown with Capitol Hill

The Air Force plans to shrink it fleet by 235 planes over the next five years as it sheds legacy aircraft to make way for the F-35, its fifth-generation fighter.

The service plans to divest 232 T-38 trainers, 166 A-10 Warthogs and 160 F-16s over the next five years, while adding 185 F-35s, according to its fiscal 2017 budget request. The long-term plan is nothing new. For years, officials have talked about the need to keep the F-35, KC-46A air refueling tanker and the B-21 bomber on track, reported Defense News.

But Congress could step in to slow the Air Force’s plans to retire legacy aircraft, as it has to spare the A-10 close air support aircraft in recent years.

“The age-old question is whether Congress will allow retirement of legacy aircraft, and [we’re] not assuming that here,” said Doug Berenson of Avascent. “There is just too much history around the A-10 and the B-1 bomber and a few others. We are assuming, essentially, stability in some of the legacy fleets that the Air Force would like to slim down, simply as a matter of congressional relations,” Berenson said.

If Congress bars the service from retiring many of its legacy aircraft, the Air Force may be forced to postpone new acquisition programs, including the T-X trainer, a two-seat jet training aircraft; and the replacement of JSTARS, a ground surveillance, battle management and command and control aircraft.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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