Preserving Options for 4th-Generation Buy

The Air National Guard has a dilemma: Under current plans, the Air Force’s purchase of fifth-generation aircraft to recapitalize the fighter force will not meet Air Guard needs since at least 80 percent of its F-16s will reach the end of their service lives in eight years. That means the nation has a serious problem, because the Air Guard carries the bulk of the homeland air sovereignty mission. In the view of Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), although the Air Force has said homeland defense is its most important mission, “it hasn’t done much to demonstrate that it realizes it’s an important mission.” Bond maintains that the Air Guard must have “an interim bridge” because it “cannot rely on the F-35 program” to provide enough aircraft “in a timely manner.” Responding to Bond during a Senate Appropriations defense panel hearing March 25, Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, newly installed ANG director, asserted that the Air Guard has been working with Air Combat Command and has made “progress” toward earlier fielding of the F-35 within the Air Guard. Wyatt said that he has “not ruled out” buy of either fourth- or 4.5-generation modernized legacy fighters, recognizing that would not be a Guard decision alone. However, Wyatt maintained, “We are preserving our options to include a fourth-generation buy.” (Wyatt written testimony)