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US Air Force to reduce fleet by 250 aircraft in 2025.

| Defense News Aerospace 2024

Chris Goron from Air & Space Forces Magazine reports a significant shift in the U.S. Air Force's strategy as it enters fiscal 2025, with plans to streamline its aircraft fleet. This initiative, detailed in the service's budget request from March 11, indicates a reduction of 250 aircraft, bringing the total inventory down to 4,903 — marking a historic low. Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, emphasized the balance of maintaining current force capabilities against an acceptable risk level during a briefing with reporters.
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A 10 from 442nd FW during Exercise Swift Response for Defender Europe 2023 near Zaragoza May 8 2023A-10 Warthog (Thunderbolt II) of the 442nd FW during Exercise Swift Response for Defender Europe 2023, near Zaragoza 'Spain) on May 8, 2023. The A-10 fleet will be reduced by 56 units in 2025 (Picture source: U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force's strategy heavily leans towards modernization, prioritizing research and development over new aircraft procurement, as explained by top officials. This divestment strategy, aimed at generating over $2 billion in savings, was highlighted by Maj.Gen. Mike A. Greiner, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for budget.

Kristyn E. Jones, the acting undersecretary of the Air Force, on March 11, explained that these divestments are strategically planned to redirect funds toward modernization programs. Despite the procurement of 60 new fighters, including 42 F-35As and 18 F-15EXs, falling short of the Air Force's annual target of 72, the introduction of Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCAs) and other modernization efforts are set to redefine the future fighter fleet's capabilities, as stated by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin on March 7.

Jones also mentioned that fiscal constraints and delays in the F-35's Technology Refresh-3 (TR-3) software upgrade influenced the reduced F-35 procurement plan. However, she assured that the commitment to the F-35 program remains steadfast in the long term.

The Air Force's retirement plans include phasing out 65 outdated F-15C/Ds, 56 A-10 Warthogs by 2029, and 26 F-15E Strike Eagles with older engines, while upgrading others with advanced electronic warfare systems. Controversially, the service seeks to retire 32 of its oldest F-22s, prioritizing investments in sensor enhancements over maintaining these older models, despite legislative resistance to F-22 retirements.

Kendall also touched on the impact of fiscal limitations imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 on procurement and modernization efforts. Despite these challenges, the Air Force plans to proceed with the procurement of 15 KC-46 Pegasus tankers and advance the Next Generation Aerial Refueling System (NGAS), alongside a modest production of T-7A Red Hawk trainers to update the training fleet. This strategic pivot underscores the Air Force's commitment to modernizing its capabilities within the confines of fiscal constraints and legislative mandates.

More details about Fiscal Year 2025 divestments

The Fiscal Year 2025 sees a significant reshaping of the United States Air Force's fleet through a series of divestments encompassing a variety of aircraft types, totaling 250 airframes. Leading the divestment list are 32 F-22 Raptors, a move that may spark discussions on the future air superiority capabilities and strategic priorities. The versatile HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters will also see a reduction, with 12 airframes being removed from service. The venerable F-15C/D Eagles, long the backbone of U.S. air superiority, will be significantly impacted, with 65 airframes slated for divestment.

Additionally, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, known for its close air support capabilities, will see a reduction of 56 aircraft. The F-15E Strike Eagle, a dual-role fighter, will have 26 of its number divested, highlighting a pivot in the tactical aircraft strategy. The F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, another cornerstone of U.S. and allied air forces, will be decreased by 11 airframes.

The transport and special mission fleets will also undergo changes. Six C-130H Hercules aircraft, crucial for tactical airlift, will be divested, alongside a single EC-130H Compass Call, indicating a shift in electronic warfare and signals intelligence strategy. The tiltrotor CV-22 Osprey, used for special operations, will see a reduction of two airframes. An E-11, utilized for battlefield communications, and 16 KC-135 Stratotankers, pivotal for air refueling operations, are also on the divestment list. Lastly, the T-1 Jayhawk, a trainer aircraft, will be reduced by 22 airframes, pointing to adjustments in pilot training paradigms. This comprehensive divestment plan, removing a total of 250 airframes, represents a strategic shift in the Air Force's composition and capabilities, reflecting evolving defense priorities and the need to adapt to future challenges.

Fiscal Year 2025 procurements

In Fiscal Year 2025, the United States Air Force is set to bolster its fleet through the procurement of 91 new airframes, signaling a significant investment in modernizing its capabilities across various mission areas. The procurement plan features a diverse array of aircraft, underscoring a strategic emphasis on enhancing air superiority, refueling capabilities, and training infrastructure.

The F-35A Lightning II, a fifth-generation multirole stealth fighter, is at the forefront of this modernization effort, with 42 airframes slated for acquisition. This procurement underscores the Air Force's commitment to incorporating advanced stealth capabilities, sensor fusion, and network connectivity to maintain air dominance in future conflicts.

Additionally, the F-15EX Eagle II, a latest-generation version of the classic F-15 platform, will see 18 new airframes joining the fleet. The F-15EX provides a unique mix of payload, speed, and range capabilities, offering an immediate upgrade to the Air Force's existing fighter capabilities while integrating seamlessly with fifth-generation fighters.

The KC-46 Pegasus, a next-generation aerial refueling aircraft, will expand its presence with 15 more units. This procurement highlights the ongoing need for enhanced air mobility and refueling capacity to support global operations and extend the reach of air combat and support missions.

Supporting the future of rotary-wing operations, 8 MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopters will be procured, intended to replace the aging UH-1N Huey. These new helicopters will play critical roles in security, personnel transport, and emergency operations across various bases.

The T-7A Red Hawk, a state-of-the-art trainer aircraft, will see an addition of 7 airframes, reflecting a strategic investment in next-generation pilot training to prepare aviators for the complexities of modern air warfare.

Finally, the procurement includes 1 C-40 Clipper, a military variant of the Boeing 737 used for the transport of personnel and supplies. While modest in number, this addition is crucial for enhancing the logistical and operational flexibility of the Air Force.

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