Reaper Joins Fighter Club

A glut of fighter aircraft plus the emergence of unmanned aircraft, especially the MQ-9 Reaper, as tactical air assets drove the decisions to retire 250 Air Force legacy fighters—mostly F-16s—next year, and halt F-22 production at 187 airframes, two of the Pentagon’s top leaders said Tuesday. During a media roundtable in the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the analysis he was shown indicated that the US military’s tacair force was “excess to the requirement.” Accordingly, Gates and Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the planned high-low mix of 187 F-22s and the planned buy of 2,443 F-35s is sufficient, when factored with the capabilities that the Reaper and other UAVs provide. Gates said this led him to act on the Air Force recommendation “to take 250” legacy fighters out of the force. Cartwright said these decisions were also “an acknowledgment” that the Reaper and MQ-1 Predator are “starting to supplant” some of the mission space that heretofore the F-15, F-15E, and F-16 were occupying, especially in the current conflicts in which “being on station for extended periods of time, not delivering maximum loads every sortie” provides the qualitative edge. (Full transcript)