US Air Force: Is investing in diversified weapons really the way forward?


The US Air Force’s “divest to invest” plan is too risky.

The US Air Force began phasing out aging aircraft in order to fund new replacements. The Air Force plans to retire the F-15C, F-16, B-1, and B-2 in order to purchase the Next Generation Air Dominance F-35 fighters, the B-21, and the F-15EX. Although this strategy may look attractive on paper, it has failed in the past.

Failed US Air Force investment transitions

Since the budgets for new aircraft are in the research, development, and acquisition accounts, where budget savings resulting from the retirement of current aircraft are taken into account, Congressional approval of operations for the year in course and maintenance discounts (not savings) are guaranteed. However, future credits in the more competitive and controlled research, development and acquisition accounts are not guaranteed. The two are not interchangeable. The Air Force had to learn these lessons the hard way. Congress does not issue IOUs and would not feel obligated to honor them if it did. Three recent examples illustrate these points.

The B-1 and B-2 bomber fleets were greatly reduced from their planned quantities. The Air Force was forced to gradually reduce the number of B-1 bombers from 100 to just 44 due to high operating expenses. Congress prevented any retirement of the B-1s until the B-21s were delivered in order to keep them operational. As a result, there are only 21 B-2s left today, a far cry from the expected number. These withdrawals of B-1s and B-2s left a vacuum in Air Force bombers until the B-21s arrived.

Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (Source: wallycacsabre/Wikimedia)

In 2003, the Air Force established a desire for 381 F-22 Raptors, but Congress reduced the number each year to 187 by pledging to fund enough F-35As to make up for missing F-22s. . Congress reduced the number to 187 each year, promising to fund enough F-35As to make up for lost F-22s. However, Congress continues to reduce the quantity of F-35As. As a result, the Air Force intends to phase out its F-22s in favor of an unknown Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft.

The F-15EX fighter jets were supposed to provide homeland defense, replacing the worn-out F-15Cs. However, this plan is already in ruins. Congress is cutting the number of F-15EX fighters in half, which will not be enough to completely replace the retired F-15Cs. Despite this, homeland defense is listed as the nation’s highest priority in the National Defense Strategy.
Whenever the Air Force relies on Congress to provide next-generation aircraft to replace obsolete current-generation aircraft, it ends up with a deficient and hollow fleet of next-generation aircraft in the short term.

Every “divest to invest” program creates a capacity gap between retirement and replacement. Because the majority of the B-1 bombers were retired without being replaced, the already insufficient F-22 fighter fleet was further reduced before the F-35As were delivered to replace them. Even before the F-15EXs are created and delivered, the aging F-15Cs will be retired. In the Indo-Pacific region, the withdrawal of the F-15, F-16, B-1 and B-2 will cause significant shortages in quantity and capability as threats increase.

The difficult history of the acquisition of weapons by the Air Force

The US Air Force has long been a leader in weapons development and has been responsible for many of the most impressive advances in military technology over the years. However, this leadership does not come cheap; the Air Force has invested billions of dollars in weapons development over the years, and the cost is only rising.

A recent example is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The F-35 is expected to be the next-generation replacement for many of the Air Force’s aging aircraft, but the program has been beset with cost overruns and delays. The total cost of the program is now estimated at over $1 trillion, making it one of the costliest weapons programs in history.

Other recent examples include the B-21 bomber program and the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter program. The B-21 is a long-range stealth bomber currently under development, while the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter is a new air superiority fighter still in the early stages of development. Both of these programs are expected to be very expensive, with total costs estimated in the billions of dollars.

So why does the Air Force continue to invest so much money in weapons development? There are a few reasons:

  1. Weapons development is necessary to maintain America’s military superiority over its rivals.
  2. Developing new weapons systems is one way to keep the US defense industry competitive in a global market.
  3. The development of new weapons systems creates jobs and supports the American economy.

Despite these benefits, there are also risks associated with investing so much money in weapons development. For one thing, weapons programs are often plagued by cost overruns and delays, which can end up costing taxpayers more than originally anticipated. On the other hand, new weapon systems can often be plagued with start-up issues and glitches that can delay their deployment or even lead to their cancellation.

Ultimately, whether or not investing billions of dollars in weapons development is worth it is a question that can only be answered by looking at the individual cases involved. However, it is clear that the Air Force has invested a lot of money in weapons development over the years, and that investment will only increase in the years to come.

Saving money by retiring legacy aircraft can be a shrewd way to justify “divestment to invest,” but it turned out to be a reckless mission, according to Defense News.

It would not be easy to get Congress to fund a better strategy that replaces planes one for one as soon as their replacements enter the flight line. Certainly, a simultaneous replacement would prevent both a reduction in force size and capability gaps, but it would be a difficult task to defend.

Despite this, Air Force leaders can build a credible, historically backed chain of reasoning in favor of simultaneous replacement to preserve force size and the continued availability of airpower to combat the growing dangers.

In the past, “divest to invest” may have been a feasible approach. Today, however, divesting now to recover later is too risky, and it may allow our adversaries to take advantage of our weakened strengths. The best way to build the future Air Force should be simultaneous retirement and replacement, not “divest to invest.”


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