A Swelling Airpower Crisis

For the first time since World War II, the combat component of the US Air Force has failed to re-equip itself, and, as a result, “it has already undergone irrevocable change and damage.” That is one main conclusion of “Combat Air Forces in Crisis,” a new Mitchell Institute paper unveiled March 18 at a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C. Presenting it was a panel of the author, Mitchell Institute director Rebecca Grant; retired USAF Gen. Gregory S. Martin; Barry Watts, former head of the Pentagon’s Program Analysis & Evaluation shop; and Loren Thompson, an airpower analyst with the Lexington Institute. According to the paper, “Fighter and attack aircraft are aging faster than they can be replaced. The way out of this crisis has been blocked by the cut in F-22 Raptor production and budget-driven delays in production of the F-35 Lightning II.” The paper and panelists offered a bleak assessment of the Air Force’s future. “To the extent that the sky is going to fall, it has already fallen,” the paper contended. “It is too late to avert the crisis. Old platforms and years of inadequate procurement have set the force structure on an all-but-irreversible downward course for at least the next several years and probably much longer. Now, the Air Force is assessing the risks and remedies that will help it find ways to cope with an extremely high proportion of legacy aircraft in Combat Air Forces.” (The paper can be accessed at the Mitchell Institute Website.)