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).

The remaining F-15s returned to service by spring 2008, butAir Combat Command officials told us that in light of the accident andsubsequent grounding they are concerned about the number of F-15s that will beable to remain in service and meet the Air Force’s operational needs up totheir scheduled retirement date in 2025. When we discussed this issue duringthe exit conference of our review, Air Force and NGB/ANG officials acknowledgedthat the end of the F-15s’ useful service lives could occur earlier than 2025if the aircraft are increasingly used for overseas deployments or othermissions. During discussions for the fiscal year 2010 programming cycle, theAir Force sought approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to retire137 F-15s and 177 F-16s earlier than originally planned. Depending on when andwhere the Air Force retires these F-15s, removing them from service early couldfurther affect the number of aircraft that will be available for unitsperforming ASA operations. In comments on a draft of this report, DOD indicatedthat extending the service life of its F-15 and F-16 aircraft is also anoption; however, the Air Force has yet to determine the extent to which suchactions are viable.




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9 Responses to More scary reading about the ‘fighter gap’

  1. Prometheus 29 January, 2009 at 8:01 am #

    Retiring also puts more stress on the still active planes, which shortes there live too.

    right now the AF one has 3 options:
    more F-22A,
    new F-16 and new F-15
    the later two are unlikly cause a up to date(and thats what the AF wants and should want) legacy-fighter cost 60 millionen or more.

  2. Royce 29 January, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

    The latest versions of F-16s and F-15s (now only exported) are still excellent fighter aircraft and are available dirt cheap. There’s a reason why the Navy is buying huge numbers of “legacy” F/A-18E/Fs and planning to take under 300 or so F-35s, and they don’t seem particularly worried if the F-35 goes away.

    But the F-35 isn’t going, and the USAF knows that eventually Congress will pony up cash when the dreaded “fighter gap” arrives so long as they don’t buy new F-16s and F-15s to close it.

  3. Matthew G. Saroff 29 January, 2009 at 4:15 pm #

    I always wonder how much of this is because the USAF has starved legacy aircraft procurement in order to provide funding, and justification, for the F-22 and F-35

  4. EG 29 January, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    The USAF could order a small number of F-16s for the reserves and justify it as being done to keep the production line open unit the F-35 arrives.

  5. Matthew G. Saroff 29 January, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    EG, I agree, that they COULD order a small number of F-16s, and F-15s for that matter, to deal with this.

    The thing is that they AREN’T ordering them.

    The question is “Why?”

    My answer is that the USAF does not want to take any action that might make the need for the latest technological whiz bang seem immediate.

  6. Vince 1 February, 2009 at 11:49 am #

    There is cost effective and simple solution. One that actualy makes

    Buy 360 more F22 and allow export to trusted allies.
    Current production numbers can easy be increased.
    Cost 360 x 140 mil ( unit cost) x 3 (guess: lifecyclecost 20 years)=
    152 bil.

    Buy 1200 gripen NG.
    Agree on production in USA so no jobs are lost. Divide between LM and Boeing so they survive too. Producution 200 a year.
    Cost 1200 x 155 ( 35 year lifecyclecost Saab offer to Norway)= 186 bil
    Yes included everyhting even fuel. No ammo tho

    Then in 2020 you have 540 F22 1200 Gripen NG
    Lifecycle cost that are sustainable.

    The F35 program wont be rdy till 2020 and is way too expensive
    now already. Lifecyclecost will be in the 300 mil and that just for
    some small stealth capabilty that simply aint needed with 550 F22 around and standoff missiles.

    I think its best to let the program mature till proven. Give it like 20 bil max extra to learn from it and keep the knowledge.See if we really need it in 2020. I highly doubt it but be sure we better let it finsish.

    Most conflicts we prolly dont even need the F22 but just plain cheap
    workhorses. But we can risk loosing air supremacy. Simple as that

  7. Stephen Trimble 1 February, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    Thanks Vince, This is a very creative approach. I like the Gripen NG on paper. Of course, it’s even earlier in its development life than the F-35 right now. You mentioned final assembly could be moved to the US and split between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. That’s an elegant way to respond to the industrial base issue, but it doesn’t answer at least two big questions: 1) The avionics package and radar is just as important — if not more — to Buy American requirements and that’s not nearly as easy to exchange, 2) Boeing and Lockheed need more than manufacturing to retain sufficient industrial capability; they also need design and engineering work. In light of these issues, why not extend F-16 and F/A-18 lines instead of buying Gripen NG, assuming enough F-22s are eventually purchased to cover the stealth requirement? Do you think the Gripen is inherently superior to the American second-line products?

  8. Vince 2 February, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    The Gripen c/d model is already the cheapest to operate, maintain, nato compatible and less failures.

    Gripen NG will go from there and offer even more.

    I dont think F16 or F18 can match or even come close in lifecycle cost but yeah do an open canidate evaluation. F18 line needs to stay open for the Navy but thats another topic.

    Also Gripen always comes wiht full technology transfer so theres enuff future in the new airframe. Even the F35 will have components in it that are not produced in the USA. No plane nowadays is 100% national and thats never been much of a problem in the past.

    - as for the avionics and radar build by trusted companies that already do business wiht the USA and will be good enuff.

    - Boeing and LM can besides build the Gripen NG help upgrade it in future years and move on with future generations airplanes, drones and uavs

    Gripen NG will be ready in time and on cost. If there gonne be huge order prolly even sooner. Its a safer way then betting on the F35 cause thats what it is.

    Going for the F35 that people hope will be affordable and can dominate the skies or choose safe route enuff F22 and 1200 cheap Gripen NG or F16 (whoever can match the lowball lifecyclecost) that will do the job for sure. What in 10 years from now real events show we needed the full stealth air supremacy fighter after all or what if they find a fast way to detect stealth planes which i sure they will do in time. Even without stealth the F22 still be a formible fighter. F35 without stealth is like just an very expensive weapons platform. Besides limited stealth it dont add anything that Gripen NG, F16 and F18 cant do. F35 block 3 wont be ready for 2015. Blocks afterwards will add to the cost. Betting USAF future on the F35 just dont make any sense to me. Its all them lobbies that will break the USAF i fear.

    On the capabilities of the Gripen NG. I think its way better then old F16 models, better then the latest model F16 and F18.Most important is tho you cant beat it easy deployment, maintenance and cost per hour. All proven wiht the Gripen C/D. Besides the stealth aspect i think its on the same level as the F35.

    Soon USA will make a far reaching decision we will see what comes out.( lol doubt it will the above idea) But in my humble opinion as things stand today its better to take the safe and affordable route. Meanwhile keep current funding for the develop and test phase of the F35 and see what comes out. And allow F22 exports to trusted allies.

    End of the day what counts is get the job done in a sustainable way and for that USA dont need the F35. F22 and Gripen NG/F16/F18/uav and standoff missiles will do the job just fine.

    Will be intresting to see this year what Obama comes up wiht cause under the current economic situation USAF just cant have it all. There just aint the budget for it.

  9. Sven Ortmann 3 February, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    I LOVE that Gripen NG/F-35 file.
    I didn’t know that I as a German can read so much Swedish, it’s a great feeling.

    The problem with all these F-35 yes or no discussions is that the F-35 will be defined by its avionics even more than most aircraft today.
    We haven’t seen a ground-attack aircraft with such a avionics package yet.
    It’s difficult to estimate its value without knowing the avionics capabilities exactly – and the deficiencies.
    Easily quantified values like range, payload and obscure “stealth” isn’t what defines the F-35 in my opinion. The combination of integral IRST and simultaneously multi-functional radar can offer incredible target seeking and identification capabilites.

    We will likely use such avionics in future ground attack planes (and develop the avionics beforehand) anyway.

    By the way; the F-16XL/E is still an incredible airframe. It’s STILL a viable alternative as an airframe – the small radar is an air combat disadvantage, though.

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