The U.S. Air Force is planning to retire the 33 oldest, non-combat-capable F-22s to optimize resources
The U.S. Air Force is seeking approval from the Congress to retire the oldest Tyndall Air Force Base’s F-22 Raptors beginning next year. These Raptors, which have been relocated to Eglin AFB since Tyndall was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018, were expected to move from Florida to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, but they might now suffer a different fate.
The news was first reported by Air Force Times, quoting Maj. Gen. James Peccia, the Air Force’s deputy assistant budget secretary, after a meeting with reporters. The retirement of the oldest Raptors, if approved, would free up resources to upgrade the F-22 fleet with new advanced sensors, improvements for the F-35 Lightning II and new cutting-edge technology as part of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
This way, all but three Block 20 aircraft would be divested, reducing the overall F-22 fleet from 186 to 153 aircraft. These Raptors would go to the “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, but it is not known under which category they will be stored. Considering the info available at this time, it appears almost sure that they will not be kept in a “Type 1000” storage (a condition which allows the aircraft to quickly return to service) as the Air Force has no future operational use for them.
Among the reasons behind this plan, the service listed the high costs that would be required to upgrade these 33 aircraft to an operational status. Maj. Gen. Peccia, in fact, mentioned that an investment of USD 1.8 million over eight years would be required to upgrade these older F-22s, which right now are only used for training, as the Block 20 has only basic air-to-ground capabilities, compared to more recent Blocks.
“We will take operational jets and use them for training, but yet we can also take them and use them in the fight,” Maj. Gen. Peccia told reporters on Mar. 25. “It’s really using every dollar as smart as we can in our fighter portfolio when we’re trying to modernize that portfolio.”
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall added that he doesn’t expect further F-22 retirements in the short-term and that it remains the service’s premier air-to-air fighter jet. An Air Force spokesperson said that the remaining Raptors will be redistributed among the squadrons, reducing the number of aircraft assigned to each air base.
The future of Tyndall’s F-22 has been uncertain for a long time since, after the destruction brought by the hurricane, the jets have been operating from Eglin AFB while waiting for a final decision. Following the plans to rebuild Tyndall as a “base of the future” and new F-35 hub, the Air Force has approved Joint Base Langley-Eustis to be the new home for the F-22 training unit previously based at Tyndall. The move has been on hold for quite some time, but an Air Combat Command spokesperson said it is still being coordinated without a specific timeline.
These jets were also eyed for retirement when the Air Force first considered the retirement of the F-22 last year, with Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Air Force Chief of Staff saying that the service will cut its fighter inventory from seven fleets to four. The list of the “axed” fleets unexpectedly included the Raptor, but it was justified as referred to a very long-term scenario where the F-22’s small fleet (compared to the other aircraft in the inventory) will become increasingly hard to support, since it is already 20 years old.