Air Force chiefs want their new stealth fighters, bad — so bad, they’re willing to scrap some of their best-performing planes early, in order to free up cash for their controversial, next-generation jet.
Inside Defense reports that “nearly half the B-52 bomber force and the full U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth fighter fleets” will be retired ahead of schedule, under a Pentagon budget plan endorsed by the Air Force. It’s part of “a bid to save
$16.4 $2.6 billion and boost spending” for the F-22 Raptor program.
About a year ago, a similar Pentagon “Program Budget Decision,” or PBD, cut $10 billion out of the F-22’s budget. Originally designed to duel with Soviet fighters, the Raptor seemed to be a plane without a mission; the Air Force touted the F-22 as everything from a cargo lifter to an IED-stopper. A fleet of 277 Raptors was downsized to 179 — despite a massive PR campaign from the Air Force.
This PDB, Inside Defense notes, “would allow the Air Force to inject an additional $1 billion into its prized F-22A program,” and add a grand total of four planes to the Raptor roster.
Cuts to the long-range B-52 bomber fleet would reduce the inventory from 94 aircraft to 56… The Air Force is banking on $4.6 billion in savings with this early retirement: $680 million in the procurement accounts and $3.9 billion in personnel reductions associated with a smaller B-52 fleet…
The Pentagon also plans to terminate the B-52 Stand-off Jammer System, an electronic attack capability, saving $1.1 billion across the five-year spending plan, according to the PBD.
Convincing Congress to go along won’t be easy, however.
Similar attempts in recent years — including moves to stand down B-1B bombers, KC-135E aerial refueling aircraft, and the F-117 — have met stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. But this time around, the Pentagon appears to be taking a new approach in proposing to retire three programs at once.
Now theyre going for the whole enchilada, Christopher Bolkcom, an aviation expert at the Congressional Research Service, said. You can see that they seem to be launching a frontal assault.
UPDATE 12:36 PM EST: “Privately, the Air Force sold the B-52 SOJ [stand-off jammer] on the merits of the very large antennas” that would jam the most dangerous enemy radar, Bolkcom tells Defense News. “If the B-52 is replaced with a smaller jamming platform, one may wonder how these frequencies will now be jammed, or whether the original argument for the B-52 was valid.”
UPDATE 2:42 PM EST: “Remember, this is the same Air Force that tired everything it could to retire the A-10s early,” Murdoc reminds us. “What is it about these guys that drives them to retire the most effective planes in the inventory for expensive new fighters?”