Air Force Asks to Retire 201 Aircraft in 2022 and Will Buy 91 New Ones

The Air Force will ask Congress to let it retire 201 aircraft in its 2022 budget request, though it plans to buy just 91 new airplanes, as it looks to free up cash from legacy systems for new technologies needed to keep pace with peer adversaries such as Russia and China in a high-end fight.

“As Secretary of Defense [Lloyd J.] Austin has emphasized, the DOD will evaluate and divest legacy systems and programs that no longer meet mission and/or security needs, while investing smartly for the future,” the Air Force said through a spokesperson. Divesting old iron frees up manpower and resources “to field more capable systems to address emerging threats” and will save $1.4 billion, presumably through operational cost avoidance.


A-10 Thunderbolt(42)($343.9)
E-8 (JSTARS)(4)($106.5)
RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk(20)($273.3)
Source: USAF budget documents


F-35A Lightning II6048
HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter1914
KC-46A Pegasus1514
MC-130J Commando II43
Source: USAF budget documents

The largest hit would be to the fighter inventory, which would see a net reduction of 77 aircraft. The Air Force would retire 48 F-15C/Ds, 47 F-16C/Ds, and 42 A-10s for a total of 137 fighters retired. The service will buy 48 new F-35s in 2022 and 12 new F-15EX Eagle IIs.

Air Force Magazine has previously reported that USAF plans to reduce its fighter inventory by 421 jets over the future years defense program ending in 2026, while bringing on just 304 new fighters. The fiscal 2022 budget documents released May 28 do not show FYDP plans. Officials say those numbers are still being worked out.

The tanker fleet would decline by 18 KC-135s and 14 KC-10s, for a total of 32 airplanes, and USAF plans to buy 14 new KC-46s in 2022.

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft would decline by 26 airframes, the bulk of which would be Block 30 RQ-4 Global Hawks, reduced by 20 aircraft. The E-8C Joint STARS fleet would be reduced by four airplanes, and the two OC-135 Open Skies treaty verification aircraft would be deleted, now that the U.S. has withdrawn from the Open Skies treaty.

A large number of puts and takes would affect the fleet of C-130s in its various configurations for both mobility and special missions. USAF would retire 13 C-130Hs, but will bring on five new C-130Js, for a net decrease of eight Hercules in the tactical transport role. It also plans to procure three new MC-130J Commando IIs, one less than the 2021 enacted budget.

The Air Force will buy 14 new HH-60W combat rescue helicopters. Budget documents do not show a reduction in its HH-60G fleet, which the W models are to replace.

The bomber fleet shows no further reductions in 2022 after divesting 17 B-1s in 2021; the first Lancer retired to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, on Feb. 17. The bomber fleet holds at 44 B-1s, 20 B-2s, and 76 B-52s, for a total of 142 airframes.

Notable inventories remaining unchanged also include the C-17 transport fleet, holding at 222 airlifters; the F-15E fleet, at 218 fighters; the U-2 ISR fleet, steady at 31 airplanes; and the T-38A and C trainers, flat at 59 and 445 aircraft, respectively.

Although the Air Force is already planning a replacement to the MQ-9 fleet of hunter-killer drones, it would increase their numbers by 21 aircraft in 2022, to 351 airframes. A service spokesman said the increase is due to aircraft being delivered that were added by Congress in fiscal 2020, though the service is not buying any new ones. Even so, USAF said it is “maintaining 56 government-owned, government-operated MQ-9 combat lines,” which include several aircraft each, in fiscal ’22, having reduced those GOGO lines by four.

The Air Force believes it has “sufficient quantities of MQ-9s in the inventory” to support combat requirements while it asses a “follow-on capability that better aligns” with the National Defense Strategy. There’s money in fiscal 2022 to pursue a so-called “MQ-X,” but “that line of funding remains classified,” the spokesman said.

News Editor Amy McCullough contributed to this report.