Although the USAF would like to retire 33 older F-22 stealth fighter jets, it appears the committee is still not ready to let go the Raptor.
On Jun. 23, 2023 the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) announced that it will allow the Air Force to retire 42 A-10s as part of its 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, approved last week.
As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, the Senate panel’s decision follows on a similar one by the House Armed Services Committee, indicating that lawmakers are prepared to let the A-10 go after years of defending the venerable close air support aircraft from divestment.
By contrast, although the US Air Force (USAF) would like to retire 33 older F-22 stealth fighter jets, it appears the committee is still not ready to let go the Raptor.
As already explained, after Congress blocked a similar request in FY23, the USAF is trying again to retire 33 older block 20 F-22s the service emphasizes are not combat-coded but used for training.
Lawmakers on the Senate committee consider their version of the NDAA in secret (in fact even though they released a 34-pages summary of the bill, they have yet to release the full text) unlike their House counterparts.
Air & Space Forces Magazine says;
‘The summary states that the NDAA “reduces the total number of fighter aircraft the Air Force is required to maintain from 1,145 to 1,112.” While that reduction matches the number of F-22s the Air Force wants to divest, the law currently on the books states that the service specifically has to maintain 1,145 combat-coded fighters.
‘Meanwhile, the SASC’s bill summary does not mention the F-22 specifically in any capacity—suggesting that a provision in last year’s bill prohibiting the retirement of any F-22s is still in place.
‘A SASC staffer said the reduction language in the summary doesn’t refer to the F-22s but acknowledged the discrepancy and said it may be clarified in the full mark. He also suggested the A-10 reduction would only affect the Air National Guard.
‘The committee also wants to block the Air Force from retiring any RQ-4 Block 40 aircraft, which have been used as Battlefield Airborne Communications Node platforms.’
As already reported, the USAF would like to retire 310 aircraft in its $185.1 billion fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget proposal, a request that officials argue will enable them to put greater dollars toward future capabilities like the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter and developing a drone wingman known as Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA).
Spending money to sustain the F-22 fleet — which costs about $2.3 billion every year, according to a June 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office — would be better used to further efforts like developing its NGAD successor, officials argue.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in his keynote address at the Air Force Association (AFA) Warfare Symposium on Mar. 7, 2023 that the USAF will field 200 NGAD aircraft and notionally 1,000 CCAs.
Kendall said that the next generation of air dominance will include both the Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter platform “and the introduction of uncrewed collaborative aircraft to provide affordable mass and dramatically increased cost effectiveness.”
Kendall explained that the “notional” 1,000 CCA figure was derived from “an assumed two CCAs for 200 NGAD platforms, and an additional two for each of 300 F-35s.”
Exactly how many NGAD platforms the USAF is planning to buy has been a closely-held secret, and even if it is “notional,” the 200 figure is revealing in that it is greater than the current inventory of F-22 Raptor fighter jets which the NGAD will eventually succeed circa 2030.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force