The US Air Force (USAF) is asking the US Congress to let it retire 201 aircraft in fiscal year 2022, in order to reinvest savings from not operating and maintaining those aircraft into research and development, as well as procurement of next-generation aircraft and weapons.

Emphasising it needs aircraft that are “lethal and survivable against a peer threat”, the service says it can save maintenance and operations funds by retiring aircraft it deems obsolete. It expects to save $1.37 billion from divestments, according to its FY2022 budget request, released on 28 May.

A-10 Thunderbolt II

Source: US Air Force

A portion of the aging A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet is being targeted for retirement

The USAF is requesting a fiscal year 2022 budget of $156 billion from the US Congress, a 2.3% increase over the year prior. The Space Force is requesting $17.4 billion, a 13.1% increase.

Overall, President Joe Biden is requesting $715 billion for the US Department of Defense, a 1.6% increase over the FY2021. The Pentagon also wants $112 billion for research, development, test and evaluation – “the most ever requested by the department” and a 5% increase from the prior year, it says.

“This budget starts us on the path necessary to organize, train, and equip the Air and Space Forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat the challenges we anticipate in 2030 and beyond,” says acting secretary of the USAF John Roth. “It not only funds the capabilities required today, but also where the Department of the Air Force needs to make trade-offs to invest in the capabilities required for future competition.”

The USAF says its acquisition priorities include the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, the ballistic missile replacement for the Minuteman III; the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), the USAF’s future air superiority fighter that is supposed to replace the Lockheed Martin F-22; the Advanced Battle Management System, an in-development battlefield communications network; the Next-Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning satellite system; and the B-21 Raider stealth bomber. Upgrading the Boeing B-52 and continuing F-35 acquisitions are also priorities.

“In order to focus resources to these and other modernisation efforts, the budget also includes proposals to right size aging, costly, and less-than-capable legacy systems”, says the USAF.

Divestment requests
Aircraft FY2022 divestment quantities FY2022 projected savings in millions
A-10 42 $343.90
F-15C/D 48 $248.90
F-16C/D 47 $30.90
KC-135 18 $112.70
KC-10 14 $174
C-130H 8 $83.10
E-8 JSTARS 4 $106.50
RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk 20 $273.30
Total 201 $1,373.30

Aircraft that the USAF deems expensive to maintain or vulnerable to being shot down by sophisticated adversaries, such as China or Russia, are ripe for retirement. For example, the Cold War-era McDonnell Douglas F-15C/D, which the service says has major structure issues and will run out of safe airframe flying hours between 2023 and 2027.

“By the 2035-2040 timeframe, the Air Force must have a fighter fleet that provides the capability, capacity, and affordability to meet air superiority and global strike needs for our nation’s defence, both in competition and in conflict,” says the service. “To attain the desired fighter fleet, the Air Force must right-size current aircraft inventories to expedite the transition away from less-capable, aging aircraft & emphasise investment in future capabilities such as NGAD and F-35 modernisation.”

The need to “right-size current aircraft inventories” also means the aging Fairchild Republic A-10 close-air support fleet should be cut down to a smaller size, it says. The USAF says that aircraft is only useful for counter-terrorism and lower intensity conflicts.

The Department of Defense calls the F-35 the backbone of its fleet, but requested purchases are down its FY2022 proposed budget. For example, the USAF is requesting 48 examples of the F-35A, a dozen fewer than ordered in FY2021.

Requested purchases of most aircraft and weapons are down, except for long-range cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles. Those weapons are believed to be able to penetrate the air defences of advanced adversaries. The USAF wants to order its first hypersonic missile into production and has budgeted funds for 12 examples of Lockheed Martin’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).

USAF aircraft quantities requested
Aircraft FY2021 enacted FY2022 requested
F-35A stealth fighter 60 48
HH-60W combat rescue helicopter 19 14
KC-46A in-flight refuelling tanker 15 14
F-15EX fighter 12 12
MC-130 transport 4 3


USAF munitions quantities requested
Munitions FY2021 enacted FY2022 requested
Joint Direct Attack Munition 16,800 1,919
AGM-113 Hellfire 4,517 1,176
Small Diameter Bomb - II 743 985
Small Diameter Bomb - I 2462 998
AGM-158 JASSM-ER 400 525
AIM-9X Sidewinder 331 243
AIM-120D AMRAAM 268 168
ARRW 0 12