Coming soon: A U.S. Air Force that can’t afford its fighters

Wednesday, June 01, 2016 by

( Whatever Congress and the next president have to do to reverse the imbalances in the defense budget, they’d better get it done – and quickly, because things will only get worse and the range of threats facing the United States are not simply going to disappear.

That will include finding a way for the U.S. Air Force to pay for the one thing it really needs – planes – past 2021, according to Military Times.

If the service’s budget topline does not change, says the Pentagon’s latest 30-year aviation report, the branch won’t be able to buy the fighter aircraft it needs, specifically.

Overall, as the armed forces under President Obama continue to downsize, the Air Force – like the other branches – is having to make some hard budgetary choices, which means retiring more aircraft that it buys. That means after 2021, the service’s fighter inventory will take a severe hit and will continue to erode to until it reaches its lowest level a decade later, in 2031, the Pentagon’s latest annual aviation, inventory and funding place for fiscal years 2017-2046.

Military Times noted further:

Congress last year mandated the Air Force maintain 1,900 fighter aircraft in inventory beyond 2021. But the Air Force does not have enough money to meet that requirement, according to the report. The service currently has 1,971 attack aircraft in inventory, including A-10s, F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-35As.

The service has said it plans to finally retire it’s A-10 fleet between FY 2018 and FY 2022, but hinted further that those plans “are subject to change.”

Because of consistent problems and delays with the F-35A program, the most expensive weapons system in the nation’s history, some in Congress have urged the Air Force to restart its F-22 line, to fill the gap. But the service chiefs have said consistently that is a non-starter because of the enormous cost of doing so.

Meanwhile, as USA Today reported earlier this week, warplane threats around the world contine to rise, especially the Russian and Chinese threats.

Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, who leads Air Combat Command, said in an interview with the paper that meeting the challenge from the Russian and Chinese to flights in international airspace is essential but dangerous.

“Our concern is a resurgent Russia and a very, very aggressive China,” Carlisle said.

“Their intent is to get us not to be there,” Carlisle added. “So that the influence in those international spaces is controlled only by them. My belief is that we cannot allow that to happen. We have to continue to operate legally in international airspace and international waterways. We have to continue to call them out when they are being aggressive and unsafe.”

Others worry that aggressive intercepts of U.S. reconnaissance planes and ships in eastern Europe and the South China Sea could result in an accident that would raise tensions and possibly turn into a shooting war.

“If it does, American victory is not assured, because U.S. forces are operating thousands of miles from home and the other side is near its main bases. Small confrontations can turn into big wars, and Russian military doctrine embraces the use of nuclear weapons to win local conflicts,” Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and military analyst at the Lexington Institute, told the paper.

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