The US Air Force (USAF) wants 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), Breaking Defense reports.
The proposed FY24 budget calls for buying 72 fighters — 48 Lockheed Martin-made F-35As and 24 Boeing F-15EX Eagle IIs — and spending more on the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber, the Boeing E-7A battle management and command-and-control aircraft, the Northrop Grumman-made next-generation nuclear missile known as the Sentinel, Defense News says.
The Air Force also wants a $673 million spending boost for the B-21 in 2024, which would bring its procurement funding to more than $2.3 billion to continue low-rate initial production.
In FY24, officials are asking Congress permission to bid adieu to fleets like the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARs) and KC-10 and accelerate retirements of the A-10 Warthog (the proposed retirement of 42 A-10s in 2024 would follow this year’s retirement of 21 Warthogs, and would leave the service with 218 of the attack aircraft).
After Congress blocked a similar request in FY23, the Air Force will try again to retire 32 older block 20 F-22s the service emphasizes are not combat-coded. 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.
Congress last year blocked the Air Force’s first attempt at retiring 33 of those F-22s.
The Air Force also wants to retire 57 F-15 C and D fighters. Some those Eagle jets are around four decades old, and are reaching the end of their lives. The service is already withdrawing dozens of older F-15s from Kadena Air Base in Japan for retirement.
And in the 2024 budget proposal, the service said it wants to retire two more E-3s, leaving it with 16. Last week Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall downplayed the likelihood of a capability gap emerging by retiring some AWACS before E-7s arrive to replace them.
“The E-3 is essentially not effective in the environments we’re most worried about,” he said. “The sensor is pretty ancient at this point, and the aircraft are very expensive to maintain.”
A full list of the divestments are as follows:
As already reported, last week 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.”
He cautioned that “this isn’t an inventory objective, but a planning assumption to use for analysis of things such as basic organizational structures, training and range requirements, and sustainment concepts.”
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.
As many as five CCAs could collaborate with each crewed fighter and the process of introducing them will be iterative, Kendall previously explained.
As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, CCAs will perform missions in electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses, air and ground protection, and communications.
According to Kendall, affordability for force-building is one of the drivers behind the push for CCAs.
If the USAF only buys F-35s and F-15EXs, then “we have an unaffordable Air Force.” The goal for CCAs will be to cost “some fraction” of the cost of an F-35. “We’re going to design around that,” he said.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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