Air Force facing aging aircraft 'crisis'

Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2012 @ 10:11 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 06, 2012 @ 10:11 PM

The Air Force faces a “crisis” with aging aircraft in its inventory, according to a noted defense analyst, pointing toward a likely topic being discussed at the private meetings Air Force leaders are holding in Dayton this week.

The Air Force is “facing challenges because it has not succeeded in modernizing its fleet to anywhere near the degree it needs to, so the fleet is getting old,” said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the nonprofit Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

The bat-winged B-2 bomber and the F-22 stealth fighter were acquired in far smaller numbers than originally planned, he said. The Air Force initially expected to buy 132 B-2s but purchased 21 of the billion-dollar bombers; it originally aimed to acquire 750 F-22s but got 187, he said.

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“What has happened to the Air Force is a gradual aging process made worse by its inability to successfully carry out major weapons programs,” he said. “It has become a crisis because the force has grown so old.”

Thompson’s assessment came as 100 Air Force brass hashed out issues facing the service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in meetings — dubbed Corona — that began Tuesday and will wrap up today.

“Coronas are secret meetings of the most senior officers in the Air Force, and they typically are held to resolve major issues facing the service,” Thompson said.

Those meetings are held three times a year, and Wright-Patt has hosted one of them every year since 2006. This year’s Corona coincided with the promotion of Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, who became the first four-star female general in the Air Force at a ceremony on Tuesday. Wolfenbarger is the new commander of the Air Force Materiel Command.

AFMC is responsible for testing, developing and acquiring Air Force weapon systems, including aircraft. The average age of an Air Force craft is 25 years old, said AFMC spokeswoman Sue Murphy.

The Air Force, like other branches of the military, faces budget cuts that are expected to lead to fewer personnel and manned aircraft. Defense contractors fear the budget fallout could impact their businesses, too.

AFMC spokesman Ron Fry said in an email that Air Force resources “are appropriately targeted to promote agile, flexible and cost-effective forces.”

“Despite the challenges we face, today’s Air Force is, by any objective standard, the world’s best,” he wrote. “It is our intent, and our obligation, to the American people to remain the world’s finest Air Force in the decades ahead.”