Keeping An Obsolete Fleet

The Air Force needs to keep its fourth generation fighters “through the end of the next decade,” but won’t be able to do much to make them more capable, said Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Hostage on Wednesday. “Based on the budgets we just turned in, we had to … sacrifice” most of the refurbishment of the legacy fleet, he said during the four-star forum at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. It was a “zero-sum game” between upgrading the older aircraft and recapitalizing with new ones, and the choice was made to move on to the F-35 and other combat systems, said Hostage. Because there are “a very limited number” of F-22s to perform the air superiority job, some F-15s will be retained and they will get a few “key elements” of improvement, but the service-life extension program for the F-16, called CAPE, has “taken pretty heavy hits,” he said. Still, the service must keep the airplanes to have adequate capacity. They would be useless without the fifth generation fleet of F-22s and F-35s to secure the airspace, however, said Hostage. “You’ve got to have them both to be viable,” he said.