U.S. Air Force plans to remove almost 500 aircraft over the next five years

The USAF plans to divest entire fleets, including the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane and U-2 Dragon Lady spyplanes and “focus on the multi-role aircraft that can deliver a variety of capabilities combatant commanders require”

The Air Force is going to shrink over the next five years. This is the result of the structure changes announced on Mar. 10, following the FY15 President’s Budget announced on Mar. 4.

The plan is going to axe some 500 aircraft across the inventories of all three components, reshaping the Air Force as “a smaller and more capable force […] that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries” according to SecDef Chuck Hagel.

The reduction will affect squadrons based in 25 States and the District of Columbia; units based abroad will suffer minor cuts, in order to maintain a significant overseas presence. Nevertheless, Osan airbase in South Korea, will lose its A-10s, while RAF Lakenheath, in UK, will probably have to give away a whole squadron.

Over the next 5 years, along with the about 340 A-10s and 33 U-2s, the “adjustment” will cut about 70 F-15Cs, 119 MQ-1 drones, 6 E-8 Joint Stars planes, 7 E-3 AWACS, and 7 EC-130 Compass Call aircraft; such aircraft will be partially replaced by some upgraded F-16s, made available as new F-35s replace them, and 36 MQ-9 Reaper drones,  while all the remaining fleets will (more or less) be upgraded.

FY15 adjustments

The operation will save the Air Force some billion dollars that will be used to fuel top spending projects/priorities: the F-35 multi-role stealth jet, the KC-46 tanker and the new long-range bomber.

“In addition to fleet divestment, we made the tough choice to reduce a number of tactical fighters, command and control, electronic attack and intra-theater airlift assets so we could rebalance the Air Force at a size that can be supported by expected funding levels.  Without those cuts, we will not be able to start recovering to required readiness levels,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III in a press release.

Congress will probably alter the adjustment plan a little bit. Still, regardless of the money the lawmakers will commit to keep this or that plane and squadron alive, the U.S. Air Force will substantially shrink.

It will remain the most powerful aerial armada in the world, but not as large and powerful as it was years ago. Not a good thing, considered the opposite trends of the Chinese and Russian air arms.

Image credit: USAF


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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.


    • Military posturing is just that, posturing. Any true military war between the US and Russia (or China, for that matter) would be hugely detrimental to the world’s economy, not to mention the economies of the involved nations.

  1. The majority of China’s purchasing of debt has happened in the last 20 years, far after your references. As for the remainder of your jingoistic language, China’s at least acting on its problems, notably being the highest investor in renewable energy. Compare that to the US where climate change (science) isn’t even recognized by half the population. Oh, and China’s economy is plenty strong directly thanks to the US’s strive for the lowest bidder, so the need for an economy-boosting war is absent.

    • You do realize that China’s defense budget is understated, right? They don’t include R&D, foreign imports, and upkeep for their nuclear weapons. Also, a lot of things are cheaper for China than they are for us, such as food to feed the troops, so you can’t really make a straight comparison of the military budgets like that. Also, though their budget may be a lot smaller than ours, their number of active duty personnel nearly double the number of active duty US personnel. Their defense budget has grown by double-digit figures continuously for two decades and is expected to nearly double in within the next half decade. This comes at a time that the US budget has been shrinking.

      Also, China isn’t as big of a debtor anymore. Their share of the US debt has been decreasing lately, to the point that Japan nearly equals them in the amount of debt they own. In the case that they were to sell their assets wholesale, the US Federal Reserve Bank has the ability to buy off all the debt to minimize its impact on the US. Furthermore, the vast majority of our debt lies right here in the US, not abroad. The fraction of our debt that China owns is minuscule compared to the total amount of debt the US has. It’s not the debt that China owns, but rather the total debt itself that is a security threat.

      I’m not saying that we should go to war with China, anything but that. Going to war with them is a lose-lose situation. Nothing good could come out of it. I’m just saying that you’re downplaying them a bit much. It’s a good idea to maintain a level of superiority or at least parity with them now and into the future so they take us seriously. If they were to do something that is not in our interest and we protest, they’re a lot more likely to take our protest seriously if they knew that we could put our money where our mouth is with the military than they would if they knew we had no capacity to challenge them and that we are just giving empty threats.

  2. I didn’t say anything about Putin, yet you put words in my mouth. Please rethink that.

    • Where did I say you did? DOH. “How bout Puttins Peace March into Crimea?” Is a question. Do you support Puttins Ukraine invasion?

  3. Well, to be honest, it kind of sounds like people take it like it was Obama’s plan from the start for the sequester to occur. Obviously that wasn’t the intention – for sure the president thinks it sucks just as much as anyone else. What’s more, the fact that it happened cannot be blamed solely on the president either.

    To pick a single target to blame this situation on, that’s just far too easy. And something that happens way too often as well, sadly.

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