Sixth-generation Air Force strategy pushes jets to graveyard

The Air Force’s sixth-generation stealth fighter will replace its F-22 Raptor fighter jets. The F-15 EX Eagle II will bring a load of weapons in support of air combat. Additionally, F-35 fighter jets will replace hundreds of fourth-generation fighter jets, while various F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets will be upgraded with new technology to absorb missions that don’t require fighter jets. fifth generation.

These developments form the very essence of the Air Force’s plan for its future fighter force structure, a strategy that seeks to adjust the current number of 7 different fighter fleets to four plus one.

“We’re sitting on seven fighter fleets and it’s expensive, so we come down to four fleets. We have brought over three hundred F-35s and they are now the second largest fleet in our fighter fleet, ”said Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force for the Air Force. plans and programs. Institute of Aerospace Studies.

Details of the four plus one plan include the addition of the sixth-generation aircraft, the continued development of the F-35 fighter jet as a cornerstone of the force, the addition of the F-15EX Eagle II to the mix and the upgrade of the F -16 Falcon Fighters. These are four types of aircraft, the “plus one” part referring to the A-10 Warthog. Nahom explained that the F-22 Raptor jets will continue to be upgraded with new software, weapons and sensors so they can fly for several more decades – or at least until a sufficient number of Sixth generation aircraft from Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) arrived.

“NGAD will ensure air dominance, but the F-22 will remain a dominant platform. We will continue to upgrade it, but there will come a time when we need a new platform, ”Nahom said.

As for the F-16 Fighting Falcons, Nahom explained that they will remain crucial for homeland defense and other missions that do not require fifth generation aircraft. The Fighting Falcons will receive new active electronic scanning radars and function as a multirole fighter jet in missions for which, as Nahom said, the Air Force does not “need a high platform. range for ”.

Basically, the future fighter force strategy aims to rotate the Air Force from an aircraft inherited largely from the 1980s to a modern group of fighter jets that can outperform and destroy enemy fifth generation aircraft and air defenses operated by major “peer” adversaries. like Russia and China.

“Our fighter force was designed for a Soviet force,” Air Combat Command Commander General Mark Kelly told the 2021 Air Force, Space & Cyber ​​conference. “We are late. and our current gradual rate of change is insufficient. Fighter Roadmap is a change in the investment priorities required for peer-to-peer combat. The combat force will again have to move away from its original design to defeat a counterpart threat. We have to face the realities of a new threat environment and this requires the fighter force to change. ”

The evolution of the plan appears to mean that the arrival of multirole fighter jets such as the F-35 stealth fighter means that fewer aircraft designs will be used to accomplish a wider range of missions. More F-35 jets are arriving. These jets can perform air-to-air attacks, long-range targeting and detection, dropped bomb launches, and close air support missions. The sixth-generation NGAD aircraft, while supposed to function as a high-speed, stealthy air domination platform to outperform an F-22 Raptor, can incorporate some multirole capabilities as well. This means that hundreds of former F-15 Eagles and F-16 Raptors are likely on the fast lane to the aircraft graveyard.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Flickr / US Air Force

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