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

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 When the Raptor was produced it was flying “with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system.”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


Enhanced by Zemanta
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

        • 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.

      • 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

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

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • “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?

        • 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.

          • ‘You are going to sanitize the SAM threat, dominate the skies’, you’re right, which will create an environment that is even more ideal for the A-10 to operate in.

      • 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.

      • 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

        • Adding external combat missiles on aircraft increases the drag factors.

          F35 was flown to Mach 1.61 and 1.67.

    • 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)

      • 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.

  4. 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?

    • 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

  5. 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.

    • 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.

Comments are closed.