“If we don’t keep F-22 Raptor viable, the F-35 fleet will be irrelevant” Air Combat Command says

Feb 04 2014 - 72 Comments

The present and future of the F-35, A-10 and other platforms in the vision of the U.S. Air Force Air Command Command Chief.

In an interesting, open and somehow surprising interview given to Air Force Times, Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage, explained the hard choices made by the Air Force as a consequence of the budget cuts and highlighted the position of the service for what concerns the F-35.

First of all, forget any chance the A-10 will survive. According to Hostage, one of the few ways to save some money cut from the budget is to retire an entire weapon system. And, even though the Warthog “can still get the job done”, the plane does not seem to be the weapon of choice in future conflicts, in which “the A-10 is totally useless“.
Obviously, a less drastic solution, as keeping half of the A-10 fleet in active service, is not viable as it would still require much of the costly support infrastructures the whole fleet need.

Another problem is in the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) domain. Politics urge the Air Force to keep buying Global Hawks, hence, given the current budget picture, the Air Force can’t afford both the U-2 Dragon Lady and the Global Hawk. That’s why the ACC Commander “will likely have to give up the U-2″ and spend much money to try to get the large Northrop Grumman drone do the same things the U-2 has done for decades.

Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, Hostage says he is “going to fight to the death to protect the F-35″ since the only way to keep up with the adversaries, which “are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet”, is by employing a sufficient fleet of 1,763 (“not one less”) F-35s. You can update and upgrade the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they would still become obsolete in the next decade.

But, the F-22 Raptor will have to support the F-35. And here comes another problem. When the Raptor was produced it was flying “with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system.” Still, the U.S. Air Force was forced to use the stealth fighter plane as it was, because that was the way the spec was written. But now, the F-22 must be upgraded through a costly service life extension plan and modernisation program because, “If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22,” says Hostage to Air Force Times.

Something that seem to confirm what we have written some time ago….

Image credit: Lockheed Martin


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  • sferrin

    Not sure how this is any different than the F-15/F-16 hi/low combo. In fact it’s no different at all. And the fact that the F-15 has always been used for CAP etc. (see Desert Storm etc.), while the F-16 has been multirole from the start, doesn’t diminish the F-16’s air-to-air capability one whit. Nor does the fact that the F-22’s role would be to control the air diminish the F-35’s ability.

    • artyom

      The problem is that there were ~1,300 F-15 produced against ~200 F-22s.

      • michael

        only 100 are ready and combat coded.

      • Matt Sturgeon


    • val

      f22 was built in insufficient numbers then cancelled

  • Matt Sturgeon

    So we’re gonna go all in with 2 planes huh? Retire everything, fight for the death for an inferior weapons system, lackadaisically upgrade the F22. Sounds like we got some smart people running things. We’re in the best of hands.

    • Pooter Bilbo

      You do realize that we pretty much went all in with the F-15 and F-16 for the last 30 years don’t you? This is not a radical departure from doctrine. We generally buy a small number of a large, highly capable, expensive air superiority fighter (F-15 or now the F-22) and a large number of a smaller, less expensive strike fighter (F-16 or now the F-35)

      The problem is that the F-35 isn’t turning out to be the cheap modern day replacement for the F-16. This is due in large part to the design compromises made to accommodate the needs of the other services (CTOL/STOVL). These compromises turned the air force variant into somewhat of a turkey when you compare it to the stripped out agile dogfighter it’s replacing.

      • Scott1945ish

        The F-16 hasn’t been a “stripped out agile dogfighter” for decades.

        • Chris B

          F-16 was never a “stripped out agile dogfighter”. The YF-16 was, then they started adding radar, stores, a larger tail, etc. Basically everything that was needed to make the aircraft actually useful in combat.

      • Matt Sturgeon

        You do realize that we also had the F18, F14, F111, A10, etc thru out that timespan? The F35 is for all branches. F22 is not carrier capable. Its a nightmare in the making. Imagine if there were some structural, computer, or other issues that arise with 1 of 2 planes that makes the entire fleet obsolete. Then what? We already retired everything. Horrible managemment and decision making from top to bottom. The Chinese already have plans to both planes, you think they couldnt exploit something that grounds the entire fleet? Its complete foolishness to put all your eggs in 1 or 2 baskets. But we’ve got people that “will fight to the death” for this philosophy…. Sad.

  • Farzam Mir

    Well, I am not an American but it seems that F-35 is sucking America dry, and retiring A-10 is a stupid thing for Americans to do, A-10 is excellent in her rule which is close support for ground forces but F-35 as Americans say is jack of all trades but master of none, so its a stupid thing to retire A-10 early on and another stupid thing was shutting down of F-22 production line.

    • Matthew Morgan

      Eh the A-10’s impact has been by and large over-rated.

      I mean just look at what happened with desert storm, the A-10’s were being torn up so bad by the Iranians that they eventually stopped flying over Republican Guard positions, only to be taken out of the conflict entirely weeks later.

      Heck even when it was in use the A-10’s were getting the lions share of their kills with Mavericks, not the GAU, which really begs the question of why we keep it around if we can do the same thing more effectively and safer with virtually any other fighter.

      • http://twitter.com/WinstonCDN WinstonCDN

        You mean Iraqis.

      • Pooter Bilbo

        This is so on point and I wish more people understood this. The A-10 was not getting most of its kills with the gun. It was dropping bombs and shooting rockets. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how that ordinance gets on target. We shouldn’t care if it comes from an A-10 dodging small arms fire at 800 feet or a stealthy strike fighter from much higher. The Army loved the A-10 because it flew low and slow, they could see it, and it gave them an airshow. An F-35 dropping a JDAM from 30,000 feet is understandably less glamorous but no less effective in actual combat.. AND it is much safer for the plane and pilot.

        On another note, people love to hate on drones, but their loiter/time on station ability combined with some hellfire missiles has made the traditional role of the A-10 basically obsolete and accomplishes it all without ever putting a pilot in danger.

        • Scott1945ish

          Where did you get that information?
          It’s incorrect.

          JDAM’s didn’t exist in DS1.
          JDAM’s aren’t as accurate against a moving target or one that is close to TIC.

          Drones aren’t as great as you folks think they are.
          They’re targets for anyone holding a gun, or able to fly a Cessna, since they have absolutely no ability to gain SA.

      • Jim Gorman

        We lost less then 6. Try again

      • Jim Gorman
        • Scott1945ish

          Uh oh, you posted facts. They won’t like that.

      • Jim Gorman

        Weeks later they accounted for over 50% of all ground targets destroyed including tanks and Sam sights.

      • Scott1945ish

        Where do you get your misinformation?

        “…the A-10’s were being torn up so bad by the Iranians that they eventually stopped flying over Republican Guard positions, only to be taken out of the conflict entirely weeks later.”

        Prove it. How many A-10’s were shot down or written off, compared to Harriers, Tornados, or F-16’s?

        A-10’s were in the war the whole time.

        “…A-10’s were getting the lions share of their kills with Mavericks, not the GAU…”?

        Again, prove it.

      • Raptormann

        The A-10 is likely the best close air support plane of all time. We have helecopters that do that job well but the A-10 will take more abuse and survive where the copter can’t. Pentegon heads have tried to kill it for the last 30 years but it keeps filling a roll. The F35 was advertised as doing the roll, but I doubt that it can fill all the niches trumpeted.
        The one thing no one brings up what Gen. Hostage passingly refers too. The procurement spec system. No one can develope and remain cutting edge with the bureaucratic morrass that is government procurement. Better avionics tech has been developed, but is waylayed by DCMAS and GFR’s bent on making names for themselves.
        The bureaucrats do more damage than the enemy.

    • Ed

      Probably smaller countries actually have even more to fear than the US. For instance, a short while the Netherlands had to give up all of its tanks due to budget cuts, all of them… Yet somehow keeps on clinging to a purchase of this expensive jet.

    • OG_Locc

      You need to work on your math. The cost of the *entire* F-35 program – including procurement, maintenance, fuel, *everything* through 2050, is around 1 trillion dollars.

      We spent that much on welfare this year alone.

      But I agree, shuttering the F-22 line was stupid.

      • TobintheGnome

        The US federal government spent $393B in FY 2013 on welfare, not $1 Trillion.

      • Raptormann

        Shuttering the F-22 was that idiot Gates at his best. Stupidity on steroids!

    • Troy

      Being a current airman in the Air Force and in the fighter community and looking at this from the inside in allow me a rebuttal to your statement. Retiring the A-10 in this current fiscal climate that we (the Air Force) are living make sense. The A-10 is a one-trick pony, it performs its mission very well, but in today’s austere budget world it is hard to justify its keep, just like the B-1 and KC-10.

      The A-10 is slow, no radar, did I slow? Requires a semi-permissive/permissive environment to operate in. When you are the AF bean counter and have to make choices in your “budget drill”, you have to look at the facts that there are other platforms that can perform CAS and are doing that today. The B-1 by treaty can no longer carry nuclear weapons, it is a great flying dump truck that carries a lot of ordnance and can stay on station forever and now can deliver precision weapons, but that is all it can do. It is a small fleet that is no longer nuclear capable and has higher cost per flying hour than the nuclear capable B-52. I do not want to see any of these airframes to go away, but I understand the tough choices folks inside the beltway are having to make. F-35 is not yet operational Farzam and if you take a page from history many of aircraft would have fit your quote “…..jack of all trades but master of none” and turned out to be excellent aircraft.

      • Farzam Mir

        Well, can F-35 do what F-35 has done? I don’t think so, you say that A-10 is a ”one-trick pony” in my opinion that was why it is so good, you are in the Air Force so for you A-10 is not a big deal but i believe US Army personnel know the true value of A-10, this is why I believe that A-10 should have been in service with US Army Aviation in the first place.

        I don’t know because US is not my country and the weaker US military gets it is better for us.

        • Raptormann

          I know one Marine (my grandson) who knows how awesome the A-10 is.

      • Scott1945ish

        “Requires a semi-permissive/permissive environment to operate in.”

        Since when?

        The A-10 is the only western jet today with survivability built into it.

        How many A-10’s survived battle damage, compared to say Harriers, Tornados or F-16’s?

        What, in the last 25 years, have air forces been required to do the most of?

        Dog fight or CAS?

        As for the B-1 vs B-52, you fail to take into account one, small thing.


        A B-52 is a flying dump truck, that is dead meat for anything beyond a MANPADS or MiG-17.

        “F-35 is not yet operational Farzam and if you take a page from history many of aircraft would have fit your quote “…..jack of all trades but master of none” and turned out to be excellent aircraft.”

        Which aircraft are you referring to?

        • Troy

          The A-10 has always required a semi-permissive or permissive environment to operate, perhaps you don’t understand the term when used in TACAIR. My statement is not a comment to arm-chair “experts” to make comparisons as to “this aircraft was only shot xx times compared to this airplane”. Day 1 of an air campaign you are not going to start your strikes with flights of A-10s, You are going to sanitize the SAM threat, dominate the skies and strike at the same time which is what other multi-role aircraft can do, unlike the Warthog I suggest you read our Joint Doctrine on air operations, the unclassified versions are publicly available on the internet to better educate yourself on airpower concepts of operations. I must warn you they can be a dry read though.
          Guys-I think some of you here are not understanding my comments. I am in the fighter community so I share with you all my opinions and my knowledge, the A-10 is a great airplane, but we are fighting a new enemy-a smaller defense budget and older, single-mission airframes are becoming harder to justify. “…the B-52 is dead meat”, that statement alone tells me you have limited knowledge of air operations. B-52s will operate as well in a semi-permissive/permissive environment and employ stand-off weapons as a mission requires.
          Raptormann-Glad your grandson got to witness the support an A-10 can deliver and I hope it will do so for some time until retired. I am sure there are many of fellow Marines and soldiers who all of our TACAIR assets have helped protect and preserve life.
          Scott-Since you asked I will list a few airframes that turned out to be great planes in lieu of a troubled development or morphed into a different role than intended for. F4U, B-26, B-47, F-100, F-101, F-105, F-111, F-18….if you need me list specifics I will give you my email address and we can talk in detail or I can list more.

      • Matt Sturgeon

        Troy, thank you for your service. With all due respect, planes are purpose built. The bean counters dont understand war. The bean counters should look into other ways to save money besides axing entire airframes. The military beureaucrats do these things to make them as painful as possible to the public, like a baby throwing a tantrum. “You’re going to cut our budget?? Say goodbye to the B1 then.”. What would we do if heaven fforbid a real war breaks out…. fly combat sorties over hostile airspace with our B52s? This isnt 1970 anymore. The bean counters are positioning themselves as if there will be no large scale war in the future, only limited engagements. It takes no time at all for geo-political alliances to form that could easily threaten our fleet of B52s, 1000 F35s, and 200 F22s. And I’m sorry but the days of nationalizing the economy and Rosie the Riveter are long gone. There will be no mass production of combat aircraft. We would lose all projection power and be relegated to our home turf.

      • Erhard Penner

        F35 is also slow . Faster than an A10 sure but mach 1.5? What a joke ! Aircraft were doing faster than that in the 60’s

        • R Valencia

          Adding external combat missiles on aircraft increases the drag factors.

          F35 was flown to Mach 1.61 and 1.67.

    • James F. Tavella

      The A-10 was great in its day but is almost useless now. The USAF doesn’t use A-10s much for most CAS campaigns. In fact on the list of the top 5 platforms used in CAS operations, you won’t find the A-10. The F-16 flies more CAS operations than the A-10 now. Surely the F-35 can do better (which is far more designed for such operations than the F-16 which was never designed for ground support)

      • Farzam Mir

        Useless!! Can F-16 gives American troops close air support? can it be used against armored assaults?

        F-16 and A-10 are two very different aircraft with different rules.

        You can’t even compare F-35 with A-10.

  • Roland Lawrence

    Interesting comment about having to keep the F22 fleet otherwise the F35 is irrelevant. Does that mean that European nations that require the F35 to be air superiority are a little funked now?

    • Guy

      I think they refer to it like the F-15/F-16 high/low mix, lots of countries operate the F-16 alone and do fine, but are unable to achieve the same level of aerial supremacy if they also have the F15, same thing here

  • StanSki

    So the Military Industrial Complex has painted the Air Force into a corner. They either buy new or the system falls apart. Meanwhile, perfectly viable and proven aircraft get thrown to the shredder. Boy, this is one screwed up country we have here.

    • OG_Locc

      Um, no. The “Military Industrial Complex” wanted to keep building the F-22.

      I think you skipped down to the comments before you got to the part of the story where the Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command says you could update the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they’d be obsolete in the next decade.

      • 02144pomroy

        It would at least buy you time to get a real aircraft for the role.

  • jetaddicted

    “If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22,” says Hostage to Air Force Times.

    and my eyes turn towards Amsterdam, copenhagen, oslo, soon enough Brussels;
    depending on a fleet of 180 planes, none of which being less than 5 thousand miles away….

    • Matt Sturgeon


  • Andrea Turco

    Well. As usual.. quality vs quantity.

  • Ron K.

    F-35 is going to get American Aviators killed by the dozens unless, they drop the VSTOL right now before full production. Make it twin engine, and use all the space saved from that VSTOL crap for weapons and avionics.

    • OG_Locc

      Kill them by the dozens? Just like the single engine F-16?

      • 02144pomroy

        Just like the singe engine Sopwith Camel?

      • http://twitter.com/WinstonCDN WinstonCDN

        Well, Harriers killed a lot of USMC fliers before they finally got it right. Though there were many factors involved in those incidents.

        • OG_Locc

          Yeah, but the vast majority of those deaths were because the early version was an unwieldy POS, not really because of the single engine. LOL

      • Raptormann

        There is nothing like watch that baby take off. The pilots have told me it’s easier than the simulator let on. It is VERY STABLE in hover to the point of being creepy. You simply have to see it.

    • TobintheGnome

      Its already in full production. 100 built as of last month.

      There are three versions of the F-35, only one has VSTOL.

    • Scott1945ish

      What a load of nonsense.

      Ever hear of F-100’s or F-104’s?

  • http://twitter.com/WinstonCDN WinstonCDN

    F-35 is gonna break the back of the US military financially. What a turkey…. The A-7 of the 21st century.

    • Scott1945ish

      What’s wrong with A-7’s?

      This, I gotta hear.

  • Alex Roe

    These super F-35s seem to be somewhat problematic.

    Do you think Italy can negotiate a decent discount if they prove to be unfit for purpose? Do they come with a guarantee? 2 years? 1 year? 2 months? 2 days?

    Sounds as if UCAV time has arrived.

    What a mess.

    • 02144pomroy

      Not built for air superiority? What the hell good is the F-35 to our allies? None of them have the F-22? What an unforgivable waste of hard earned tax dollars. Everyone involved in this F-35 crap shoot should be hung by the b*lls.

      • Raptormann

        What will make you angry is the fact that Briton, Australia and Japan sought to buy F-22’s. Japan alone wanted 50 and Gates blocked it.

        • JB

          US Law blocked the sale of F-22’s to anyone. And the way Japan has handled sensitive Aegis technology, I am glad that only the US has the F-22. Don’t get me wrong, I am also mystified by how Gates was able to end its production. Dominance is the best way to never fight a war in the first place…

      • val

        f35 only carries 2 aams

  • Walter

    So basically the F-35 is really expensive cannon fodder.

    • JohnJubly

      Right, just like the F-16 was.

    • Erhard Penner

      Yup , can’t out turn ,can’t out climb , can’t outrun . So it’s completely useless in visual range combat .

  • Mehmet Emre

    The question must be – I think- focused on the F-35 project itself. Will it succeed? If so, later on these talks can be held :) Meantime here you can take a look at some great F-35 JSF photos:

    F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Pictures

  • CLKane15

    All I hear here is that the warfighters and taxpayers are AGAIN being compromised by politics and the military industrial complex. Does nobody realize that the A-10 is the SINGLE relevant and active aircraft on the current battlefield? I guess the fat cats can’t make money that way and DC is WAY too deep in the JSF debacle. So again, warfighters and taxpayers gut punched for our nation’s “patriots.”

  • Scott1945ish

    Why is this even a story?

    Ever since the F-22 was planned, it was ALWAYS an F-15A/C replacement for the air superiority role.
    The F-35 was ALWAYS planned as an F-16/AV-8/A-10 replacement for the CAS/interdiction role.

    These are probably the same ones who figured out the F-35 lacked rearward visibility, even though the design hasn’t changed since the start….

  • femanvate

    How can adversaries afford to field potent fleets that the US can’t defeat, given its unmatched military budget? A $200-250M fighter is useless, since we can’t afford enough of them to be effective. A single raptor costs as much as 20 A-10’s or 10 F-16’s, and any enemy would rather face a single F-22 than 10 F-16’s.

  • David Anderson

    I’m just old enough to remember when the national press lamented the unbearable national cost of Eagles, Tomcats and the B-1A. One of the greatest complaints was that they had mission capable rates well below 50%. Another was that they were so vastly superior that their capabilities were wasted in the real world. Finally, the pundits lamented that they would be swept from the skies by superior numbers of MiG-25’s and the uber-secret and ultra-superior Ram-K and Ram-L (MiG-29 and SU-27). Ahem. Really? Uh … yeah.
    So what likely air-to-air threat is the J-35 going to face? Rafales and Eurofighters? God, I hope not. And what likely combatant is going to put more than 20-30 advanced (snicker) versions of the SU-27 up against a US/EU coalition? In any conflict more serious than that I’d like to hope that it won’t just be only F-22’s escorting JSF’s, but also the Rafales and Eurofighters.
    I’m still furious that the X-Wing … er, I mean F-22A … has been taken out of production, but I’m not ready to abandon hope in the JSF. Not for the USA, anyway.

  • jack lehr

    From my armchair I would say the cancellation of the f-22 is mysterious and nearly treasonous. Less than 200 built and as with any aircraft, maybe 2/3 will be able to actually fly at any given point. How on earth is that a replacement for over 1,000 f-15’s? Why was it cancelled? Plus, even with it’s teething problems it is a miracle plane. The f-35 debacle has sounded scary from the beginning. How dumb are the politicians and planners in this country to put all (or most) of our eggs in one basket? Everything seems based on the assumption we will never again have a real war against an adversary who could conceivably beat us. I am more scared of our own leaders than our putative enemies.

  • Erhard Penner

    Just as I figured , the fat pudgy , SLOW f-35 is a piece of crap by itself in future combat . I hope Canada grabs a brain and cancels it . The US should have mass produced the YF23 instead of the crappy f35

  • McClacky

    it will be able to relay an enemy airplane lock to the b1’s in the distance armed with many aamraams which will be able to fire at the enemy planes while the f35 is long gone

  • R Valencia


    From Lockheed Martin’s G. Richard Cathers (senior manager of Lockheed Martin).

    “The Joint Strike Fighter could be upgraded to carry up to six internal AIM-120 AMRAAM Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles”

    “Our spiral development program includes the ability to carry up to six internal AMRAAMs”.