by DAVID AXE
Just two years ago, the U.S. Air Force expected to buy 381 F-22 Raptors and bring more than 1,700 smaller F-35 Lightning fighters into service beginning around 2013.
With budget cuts, planning shifts and some big program delays, today the Air Force is getting just 187 F-22s and probably around 1,500 F-35s — these a couple years later than originally envisioned.
The changes mean the fighter fleet will start shrinking soon, as old and lightly-built F-16s retire by the hundreds. “That will mean there may be a shortage of tactical aircraft that can deliver air-to-ground weapons,” Lieutenant Colonel Michael Buck, commander of the 186th Fighter Squadron, an F-15C Eagle unit, told Combat Aircraft. To bolster the F-22s and F-35s in the ground-attack role, the air service is borrowing a page from the Navy, which in the late 1990s modified its F-14 fighters to drop bombs. F-15C fighters could be modified as attack planes.
The Air Force already had plans to fit new electronically-scanned radars, helmet sights, launch rails and other advanced gear to 178 of the youngest F-15Cs, which today average around 25 years old. A passive-seeking infrared sensor is also possible. These so-called “Golden Eagles” will fly alongside F-22s on air-superiority missions.
Now, to replace retiring F-16s, Golden Eagles might pick up interfaces, software and mods to their new wide-band radar-warning receiver to allow them to detect and attack ground targets.
Maybe. “That exploration is very preliminary,” Buck said.
The Many “Beasts” of Kandahar
Drone Snoops over Iran
What do Chinese Experts Think of Russia’s Stealth Fighter?
American Aerospace’s False Doom
Imagining the “Air Force after Next”
The Emerging U.S. Counter-Insurgency Air Force
U.S. Air Force’s Failure of Imagination
Advocating a Systemic View of Air Superiority
What’s Wrong with the F-22?
Gates Budgetpalooza: Air Force Loses Altitude
The Day U.S. Air Power Was Saved from Itself
F-22s versus Russia’s Rusting, Ramshackle Air Force
Analysts: Buy Fighters, or Die
Boeing Unveils New “Stealthy” F-15
Getting the Most from Your New F-22
- Danger Room: Oxygen Losses Ground Stealth Fighters, Again
- Danger Room: Air Force Sends Grounded Stealth Fighters Back into Action … Without Fixing Them
- Danger Room: No Fix in Sight as Stealth Fighters’ Oxygen Woes Spread
- Danger Room: Gasp! Lockheed Gets Millions More to Fix Its Stealth Fighter’s Oxygen System