Procurement: October 30, 2004

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The U.S. Air Force will be drastically cutting the number of F-15 and F-16 fighters currently in service, in order to free up money for upgrades to the remaining fleet. Analysts close to the Air Force suggest it will cut up to 25 percent of the tactical fighter fleet over the next two decades. One sources has suggested that the Air Force will cut up to 600 F-16s over the next 10 years, out of the 1200 planes it currently has in active duty, Reserves, and Air National Guard, with the bulk of the cuts coming from Guard Units. The Air Force will also be cutting a surplus of 20,000 troops as well. 

Fighters are receiving the same policy of Cut some, upgrade the rest that was first applied to the B-1 bomber force and subsequently employed in managing the F-117 and A-10 fleets. However, the move is all the more remarkable due to the Air Forces historical love of the fighter plane. From a force capabilities perspective, the cuts are being spun in several different ways. Next-generational aircraft such as the F/A-22 and Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) are touted as more capable than the F-15 and F-16 planes they will replace, so the Air Force can replace older aircraft with fewer newer ones. Cheap and accurate weapons such as the JDAM GPS-guided bomb tied together with networked sensors, aircraft, and management means that it takes radically fewer bombs and sorties to destroy targets. 

Critics attribute the move to tightening budgets affected by an impending bow wave of new spending as the F/A-22 and JSF programs move into product. The Air Force already plans to buy one-third fewer JSFs (between 2006 to 2011) than they initially wanted and only has enough money to buy 277 F/A-22s instead of the 381 they want.

The cuts are not likely to go over very well with Guard and Reserve units taking the brunt of the action similar to the B-1 and A-10 cuts in the pipeline. Defense manufacturers seem to be resigned to smaller numbers of planes and expect to make their money in maintaining and upgrading remaining aircraft. Doug Mohney

 


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