The US Air Force (USAF) is planning big changes to its fighter acquisitions programmes in 2025.

In a formal budget request to Congress for the fiscal year 2025, the service reveals it plans to purchase fewer total Boeing F-15EXs, while simultaneously slowing the pace of Lockheed Martin F-35 and Boeing T-7A trainer acquisitions.

Billions of dollars will continue to flow into the USAF’s sixth-generation fighter development initiative and the associated effort to build autonomous combat jets.

“This budget request sustains the modernisation momentum of the operational imperatives while taking measured risk in the near term,” said assistant air force secretary Kristy Jones during an 11 March budget briefing at the Pentagon.


Source: US Air Force

The US Air Force is cutting its planned buy of Boeing F-15EX fighters to 98 aircraft, down from a previously planned 104 jets

Notably, elected lawmakers in Washington have yet to approve the FY2024 defence budget – six months into the fiscal year. Political disagreements around financial support to Ukraine have held up a budget agreement.

The USAF’s proposed spending plan includes 42 F-35As and 18 F-15EXs in FY2025, which starts on 1 October 2024. That combined figure of 60 marks a substantial reduction from the USAF’s previously stated goal of acquiring 72 new fighters per year to support fleet modernisation.

Notably, the service has cut its overall acquisition target for the modernised F-15 fourth-generation fighter.

“For the F-15EXs, we are reducing the total programme to 98,” says Jones, “That is a change that is almost exclusively due to fiscal constraints.”

The USAF’s F-15EX procurement target has fluctuated repeatedly, falling from an original high of 144 aircraft to at one point as few as 80, before most recently settling at 104 examples.

Boeing has already delivered six test aircraft to the air force and is preparing to hand over the first combat-configured F-15EX.

When it comes to the stealthy F-35, the cuts requested by the USAF appear to be only a temporary measure.

“The F-35 story is different,” Jones says. “We haven’t changed the total programme of record.”

Lockheed lists the USAF porgramme of record for the F-35A variant as 1,763 jets. While that may not be changing, the service is looking to reduce the number of F-35s it purchases on an annual basis.

Jones cites spending constraints imposed by Congress in 2023, and an ongoing delivery pause related to technical challenges with the latest technical upgrades to the fifth-generation jet, as the reason for the reduction.

“Our approach is to minimise the impact of that by procuring fewer [F-35s] in the first years of the Future Years Defense Program,” she notes, referencing the Pentagon’s multi-year spending plan.


Source: Boeing

Boeing’s T-7A trainer jet also faces cuts, with a fleet reduction from 351 to 346

Jones adds that the air force hopes to restore annual F-35 purchases to higher levels in subsequent years.

When it comes the service’s new fighter trainer – the T-7A Red Hawk – annual reductions are also being proposed, along with a cut to total fleet size.

Intended to replace the USAF’s aged and maintenance-plagued Northrop T-38 Talon trainers, the T-7 development programme has faced its own delays and setbacks.

Budget documents indicate the air force is now seeking to shrink its total T-7 fleet from 351 aircraft to 346. The FY2025 budget request covers the acquisition of seven new Red Hawks, down from 14 jets in the yet-to-be-approved FY2024 plan.

Annual T-7 acquisition would climb to 23 jets in 2026 and increase again to 36 in 2028. That ramp-up corresponds with a projected start of low-rate production in May 2025.

Boeing is initially providing the USAF with five aircraft for the T-7A flight-test programme.

Elsewhere, the service plans to devote $3.4 billion to the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme to develop a sixth-generation fighter. That figure includes $600 million to develop autonomous jets known as Collaborative Combat Aircraft, which are intended to pair with the NGAD platform.

An F-15E Strike Eagle is loaded with five JASSMs at Eglin Air Force Base Fla May 11 2021 as part of Project Strike Rodeo - 4 c USAF

Source: US Air Force

The air force hopes to continue a multi-year programme to increase production of long-range precision munitions, including the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile

$2.7 billion will go to support the continued development of Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider next-generation stealth bomber, which is currently in flight testing.

Air force officials also hope to continue an initiative to boost production and stockpiling of long-range precision munitions.

The FY2025 spending request would continue a multi-year plan included in the 2024 budget bill that funds the production of 550 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and 115 Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles from Lockheed, as well as 128 of Northrop’s Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range radar-seeking weapon systems.

All Pentagon spending must be approved by the US Congress – whose members often modify the service’s budget requests based on strategic priority differences or members’ political goals.