Replacement Rate Woes

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee Wednesday morning that he would “love to have an increased rate of replacement” for aircraft because of growing problems on the service’s aging inventory. He noted that the service is “buying fewer but more capable platforms and implementing new initiatives to improve our productivity and efficiency,” but he said that he is concerned about “the minimal rate of replacement” of aircraft, now “at a rate of 12 or 14 a year.” According to Wynne, the problems range from flight restrictions on F-15 fighters to situations like a recent incident where Argentina refused to let C-5 airlifters land because on previous occasions they broke down. “We have right now U-2s where the wire bundles are beginning to arc, and we have pin-hole leaks in the fuel tank,” he said, adding that the problems extend over the range of USAF aircraft—ISR, refuelers, strategic and tactical lift, and fighters. In response to a question about restrictions in legislation preventing the Air Force from retiring aircraft, Wynne said: “If we could manage our fleet, we could then husband those resources and dedicate them to replacement. We cannot continue this way … at some point in time having 70- to 75-year-old airplanes is going to catch up to us.”