Sunday’s episode of This Week in Defense News featured the new USAF Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh, warning about the need to modernize the Air Force:
Our fleet is aging fairly dramatically… we have got to figure out a way to modernize the Air Force.
A little context is helpful on this point. The Air Force has figured out a way to modernize itself. As our own Russell Rumbaugh determined in a report released last fall, the fleet we have today is largely the result of the Air Force’s very deliberate procurement choices. Rumbaugh notes that the Air Force spent $347 billion on procurement between 2001 and 2010 and that its procurement budget was 54 percent higher in FY10 than FY01. Instead of buying new variants of older aircraft, like the Navy did with the F-18E/F Super Hornet, the Air Force chose to modernize by directing its funds toward the impressive but costly F-22 fighter. As a result, the Air Force could not afford as many fighters:
The Air Force ended up with few fighters not because of a lack of procurement funding, but due to a choice to procure an expensive, high-end fighter.
Prioritizing quality often comes with a quantity tradeoff, and that affects the average age of the Air Force’s overall fleet. World-class quality has obvious advantages, though, and it’s been the Air Force’s choice to use this as the cornerstone of its modernization strategy.