The remaining F-15s returned to service by spring 2008, but Air Combat Command officials told us that in light of the accident and subsequent grounding they are concerned about the number of F-15s that will be able to remain in service and meet the Air Force's operational needs up to their scheduled retirement date in 2025. When we discussed this issue during the exit conference of our review, Air Force and NGB/ANG officials acknowledged that the end of the F-15s' useful service lives could occur earlier than 2025 if the aircraft are increasingly used for overseas deployments or other missions. During discussions for the fiscal year 2010 programming cycle, the Air Force sought approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to retire 137 F-15s and 177 F-16s earlier than originally planned. Depending on when and where the Air Force retires these F-15s, removing them from service early could further affect the number of aircraft that will be available for units performing ASA operations. In comments on a draft of this report, DOD indicated that extending the service life of its F-15 and F-16 aircraft is also an option; however, the Air Force has yet to determine the extent to which such actions are viable.
More scary reading about the 'fighter gap'
Few documents illustrate the plight of the US Air Force's aging aircraft problem better than this new report today by the Government Accountability Office. GAO's auditors focused on the future of the air superiority alert mission, a legacy of 9/11 that is amazingly still neglected. But the report also implicitly reveals the extent of the looming "fighter gap" in ways I haven't seen before. Consider this one paragraph (see page 28).
GAO-09-184 Homeland Defense: Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air
Sovereignty Alert Operations to Protect U.S. Airspace
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