Tacair Road Wreck

During the June 9 hearing of the Senate Armed Service Committee’s airland panel on tactical aviation programs, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a leading defender of the F-22 program, expressed concern over how the Defense Department is handling the projected gaps in its fighter aircraft inventories. “We’ve been very concerned about this road wreck on tactical air forces and now it’s here” and may even be worse several years from now, Chambliss said. The Air Force alone is expected to face a shortfall of more than 800 fighters starting in 2017; this is on top of the Navy’s predicted shortage of several hundred fighters. Maj. Gen. Marke Gibson, director of operations on the Air Staff, said that the Air Force’s plan to increase its annual F-35 buy to 80 or more airframes “greatly mitigates” the risk. While ramping up F-35 production sounds like it makes sense, Chambliss said that aircraft still has years of research and development ahead and there is no doubt that “it will have problems” at some point. He also asked how the Air Force could guarantee a deterrent factor against adversaries in the European theater, since it is only buying 187 F-22s. Gibson replied that Raptors can be brought forward to areas of stress, such as is being done by moving them from their bases in Alaska and Virginia to bolster the Pacific region.