Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on May 7 that there are now 283 Lightning IIs in the USAF’s arsenal, compared to 281 A-10s, 234 F-15C/Ds, and 218 F-15Es.
The service plans to purchase 1,763 of the aircraft, and the numbers of F-35As have been growing at bases inside the continental United States and Alaska. Moreover, RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom is slated to become the first USAF overseas base to operate the type later this year.
However, according to Brown, the Air Force is still undertaking a study of tactical aviation requirements to determine the right mix of fifth-generation and legacy fighters.
“The intent here is to take a look at the fighter portfolio we do have today with the seven different fighter fleets and what is the best mission capability as we go to the future,” Brown said. “We need to have a range of fighters to do both the high end and low end.”
The F-35 is the service’s “highest-end” fighter, and since the service doesn’t have its full complement of the aircraft, it needs to balance how it is used.
“The intent here [is to] study a range of options of what the right mix should be as we look at the threat for the future.” Brown said.
The F-35 has come under intense scrutiny from lawmakers recently. According to Air Force Magazine, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) called the Joint Strike Fighter a “rathole” during a March virtual event with the Brookings Institution, suggestion DOD leaders should consider cutting the overall buy.
Moreover, Lockheed Martin aeronautics vice president Gregory M. Ulmer said on Feb. 19, 2021 that the next three lots of F-35 production—now being negotiated—likely won’t see much, if any, lowering of unit prices.
He said that a reduction in units being procured and an increase in capability of the aircraft will make it tough to keep the price from rising.
Furthermore, Gen. Mark D. Kelly, commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), said in March he isn’t confident that F-35 operating costs will be tamed to $25,000 per hour by 2025, which is the service’s goal.
However, sustainment officials with Lockheed Martin believe they can reach the goal under a new Performance-Based Logistics (PBL) proposal, which the USAF is evaluating. An earlier version of the PBL pitch, which company officials had previously said was the only way they’d hit the cost per flying hour target was previously rejected by the F-35 Joint Program Office.
Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago / U.S. Air Force
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