The U.S. Air Force is confronting the harsh reality that acquiring a modernized fleet of fighters, bombers and support aircraft will not come cheaply. Not only is the Air Force going to have to get smaller to become better, but it may have to eliminate entire fleets of still airworthy platforms.
The Air Force must move as rapidly as possible into the fifth-generation of combat aircraft. This means accelerating procurement of the F-35. It also means a serious effort to define the requirements for a new long-range penetrating bomber. Finally, it means networking both legacy and new platforms to create a “combat cloud.”
But in the current budget environment, focusing on the future means taking significant near-term reductions. The Air Force’s leadership is considering such drastic steps as eliminating all A-10 ground attack aircraft and all KC-10 tankers. In addition, the Air Force will need to cut back on the number of F-16s and F-15 Strike Eagles it retains. Saving O&M funds to be applied to the modernization accounts will require not just cutting platforms but their associated infrastructure, supply chain, parts inventories and personnel.
President Obama recently sought to reassure the American people that the U.S. military doesn’t do pinpricks. However, unless the Air Force and Navy find the money they need for modernization, that is all they may be able to do against emerging threats.
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