Letting Go

The Air Force would like to retire 182 aircraft in Fiscal 2009, according to the service’s newly released budget proposal for next fiscal year. This includes 24 C-130E/H transports, one E-4B National Airborne Operations Center platform, 17 F-15 A-D and 45 F-16 A-D fighters, 38 KC-135E tankers, 52 T-37B trainers, and five U-2 reconnaissance airplanes. How many of these airplanes Congress will actually allow USAF to phase out remains to be seen as, dare we say, the parochial interests of lawmakers sometimes get in the way. Each year USAF puts out its wish list of retirees and makes the argument that ridding itself of aircraft well past their prime that sap resources and offer only diminishing returns would free up dollars to procure modern airframes. But each year, lawmakers shorten the list and mandate that platforms such as Eisenhower-era KC-135 tankers and Vietnam War-era C-130 transports stay in service, just in case. While senior Air Force officials have said in the past year the climate with Congress is improving in this area, there is still the desire for the autonomy to manage the inventory most efficiently—a state that can only be achieved without overly intrusive oversight.