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. Don’t blame Obama. The USA has been living beyond its means for decades and now it’s payback time. It waisted to much money on failed projects and was ignorant of the fact that the defence industry was hiking the bills. Some humility will suit them well.

    • You might want to check spending since Barry took the wheel and get back to us. And just for the record, defense spending is chump change compared to what gets spent on entitlements.

  2. You think we’d get into a war with out largest creditor? As well, with a military spending 2.5x China’s (as well as over double the percentage of GDP) our military is still vastly overfunded compared to theirs.

    • Apparently you think a dollar buys the same in the US as it does in China. Uhm, you’re wrong.

  3. We’ve maintained the largest military in the world (by far, especially in regards to spending) since WW2, and still will after this cut. Honestly, income disparity is a far better indicator in my opinion.

  4. If you are talking about the F-15C/D (the air/air version), that would be why 51 F-15Cs are being proposed for retirement, they are single mission airframes. The F-16C/D is a multi-mission aircraft. The F-15E, and the F-16C/D, all of them are to be replaced by the F-35A. With the USAF not getting all the F-22s it wants, some C-model Eagles will be upgraded with AESA (going on now) to compliment the F-22s in A2A missions.

    • but we need air 2 air fighters. No hate on the Viper, but the F35 can do the same job, but not the one of the F15s.

  5. I do blame Obama. He hates this country. He has more than doubled the deficit. He is doing this on purpose to cut the US down to size. He is doing everything he can to promote a multi-polar world. Hagel is another useful idiot providing cover for the Bamster. ” Smaller but more capable”. Suuure. As Stalin once said, “Quantity has a quality all of its own.” Most everything I’ve read about the F-35 says it’s a piece of crap. Can’t climb, can’t turn, can’t run. Supposedly it has some super duper secret ability that will make it invincible. It was designed to work in conjunction with the F-22 not as a stand alone. No aircraft can be designed to do everything. Didn’t they learn anything from the F-111?

    • Actually the two completely unfunded military actions that Bush began are the cause of the majority of that deficit increase, as well as Bush’s massive last year budget that Obama had to deal with his first year in office. As for hating the country, no idea where you’re getting that from.

      As for the F-35, very much agreed. I’m sure it’ll be capable, but not nearly to the extent that its cost would indicate.

      • “Actually the two completely unfunded military actions that Bush began are the cause of the majority of that deficit increase, as well as Bush’s massive last year budget that Obama had to deal with his first year in office. ”

        Apparently you learned about the budget deficit off the package wrapped around your welfare cheese.

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