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.


  1. Why the US still has overseas bases in UK,Germany, Japan, Korea baffles me ….when these are all rich nations capable of taking care of themselves …..

    • as an german american, I can tell you, many people don’t like the military. Also the government hasn’t got big interests about that, even cutting the military size to a 150000 active soldier

    • Why is all this blamed on Obama? Wasn’t the BCA a deal between the president and Congress? Wasn’t it the Republicans that called for reduced spending back in 2011? And aren’t both Democrats and Republicans to blame for the sequester?

      I’m not sure if there’s legal room left to reduce the impact of sequestation, let alone to undo it.

    • Given that the US Military itself is quite concerned with global warming and the political unrest it’ll cause, I’m not quite so sure you should be calling said fight Obama’s and useless. That is, unless you don’t trust the military that you’re defending?

      • When these Generals get to the Pentagon, they cease to be true warriors. They become politicians who wear a military uniform. When is the last time you’ve heard of a Pentagon General resigning over principal?

        • The scientific community (which the military likes listening to, as the military seeks out and trusts scienctific knowledge) says that the earth will, on the average, warm up due to humans’ fossil fuel usage, leading to food and water shortages. These are things that cause unrest. The military does not want to go all over the globe keeping order, as they’d far rather be safe at home. Thus, they would like to mitigate the cause of the future unrest, something that the majority of the US population seems to miss in their mistrust of science and quest for personal comfort.

          As for military personnel being politicized, yes, absolutely, they have to be, otherwise they’d be completely ineffective in government. It’s a tragedy in regards to the workings of government, but that’s what it’s come to, most notably in the past 6 years as the Republicans have taken a notably Putin-esque approach in regards to compromise.

  2. All to afford the F35s, the thought being that superiority role will be taken by F22s until safe for the bomb trucks (F35).

    • I know, but wouldn’t it be smart to keep the F15s running? the F35 is a “better F16”. So why are cutting something else?

      • Cost. But they are introducing stealthier F15 and F18(navy obv) as well but at a smaller rate than what they are retiring.

  3. I personally think that we don’t need all F-35 models. Just make the VTOL model to replace the Harrier. The F-16 and 16’s are great.

    • F-15 1st flt only 42 YEARS ago. F-16 is only 40 YEARS old. Brewster Buffalo was only 4 years old on 7 Dec.1941……..How about a rule that fighter pilots MUST be OLDER than their AC 1st flt date?

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