The United States Air Force is undergoing a profound transformation

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall says it would be left behind if it maintains its existing strength and does not make the change.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

In FY2024, the budget that Joe Biden’s administration wants for the Department of Defense is $842 billion. This is a 3.2% increase from the year before. Also, the administration is asking for an extra $44 billion for the Department of Energy to spend on military nuclear programmes. This means that the defence sector will spend $886 billion. This is “just” a suggestion from the president; Congress will discuss how the budget will look. The United States Air Force (USAF) will get 185 billion dollars next year.

The USAF is going through a big change right now. As part of this process, the USAF is getting rid of old and unpromising aircraft, mass-introducing the stealth multirole fighter of the fifth generation, the F-35A Lightning, and getting ready to introduce three revolutionary platforms, including B-21 Raider strategic bomber, NGAD sixth-generation multirole fighters and CCA combat escort jet drone.

The USAF intends to dispose of 310 aircraft and helicopters in FY2024, including 42 A-10s, 3 A-29s, 1 B-1, 3 C-130H, 2 E-3s, 3 E-8s, 2 EC-130Hs, 4 EC-130Js, 57 F-15C/Ds, 32 F22s, 37 HH-60Gs, 24 KC-10s, 48 MQ-9 Block 1s, 1 RQ-4 and 52 T-1s.

A total of 260 A-10 fighter jets will be retired from active duty in the year 2029. According to Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown Jr., the USAF is getting rid of the A-10 aircraft more quickly than was originally anticipated.

The USAF will rely only on four supersonic multirole fighters for at least the next decade: the F-22A, F-35A, F-16C/D and F-15E/EX.

The USAF aims to retire all 32 of its oldest F-22 Block 20 aircraft the following year. About 150 F-22 Block 30/35 aircraft will be modernised and remain in service for another decade until the advent of the sixth-generation NGAD fighter.

Within a few years, the USAF will decommission the remaining 160-odd F-15C/D fighters; they are now utilised mainly by the National Guard to defend the airspace of the United States. The F-35A and F-15EX will assume their responsibilities.

In FY2024, the force will induct 2 C-13Js, 1 E-11, 10 F-15EX, 45 F-35A, 19 HH-60Ws, 20 KC-46s, 12 MC-130Js and 10 MQ-9 Block 5s.

The swift elimination of obsolete and unpromising aircraft will enable the speedy construction of the sixth-generation fighter NGAD and the full constellation of potent collaborative combat aircraft (CCA). For example, The annual cost of sustaining the entire F-22 aircraft is $2.3 billion.

The USAF is in a strategic position where it must transition to next-generation capabilities. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall says it would be left behind if it maintains its existing strength and does not make the change. He emphasised that it would fall behind very soon.

The Air Force will purchase 48 F-35A Lightning IIs and 24 F-15EX Eagle IIs in FY2024.

144 F-15EXs were scheduled to be purchased, but the Air Force announced intentions to purchase only 80 aircraft last year. In FY2025, the USAF will order 24 F-15EXs, bringing the total fleet size to 104 F-15EXs.

The USAF will invest in 15 KC-46 Pegasus tankers and a new NGAS (Next Generation Aerial Refueling System) stealth tanker during the following fiscal year. Also being purchased are one E-11 BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) and seven MH-139 Gray Wolf helicopters.

In FY2024, the Air Force requests $2.984 billion for the B-21 Raider programme, which includes development and acquisition. In the fiscal year 2023, the amount was 3,144 billion dollars. As the B-21 programme transitions from development to production, budgetary requirements have diminished.

In FY2024, the USAF is expected to order an unspecified number of B-21s, 1 E-11, 24 F-15EXs, 48 F-35As, 15 KC-46 tankers and 7 MH-139s.

NGADs and CCAs are crucial to the USAF’s transition, and Kendall just revealed an “entry-level” plan to purchase 200 NGADs and 1,000 CCA drones. It is determined by assigning two CCAs to each NGAD and 300 F-35As. However, these CCA numbers would inevitably fluctuate over time, as Kendall mentioned the possibility of assigning up to five CCAs to each flown aircraft. In addition, the USAF plans to deploy 1,763 F-35 jets.

Kendall stated that the CCA could be viewed as a remote-controlled version of the targeting pods, electronic warfare modules, and armaments now carried under the wings of manned aircraft. Armaments, targeting/reconnaissance containers, electronic warfare equipment, or self-defence methods, such as flares, corner deflectors, decoy targets, and jammers, will be moved from the hangars of manned aircraft to the CCA under this concept.

The sixth-generation NGAD fighter will be priced far higher than the F-35A. This will prevent the production of NGAD in significant quantities. Hence, significantly less expensive CCAs will supply the air force with the requisite “mass”, – allowing the required number of sensors and weapons to be launched into the air.

CCA will also facilitate the exchange of data between planes through the use of contemporary communication technology. This data exchange will enable aircraft to correctly map space (both in the air and on the ground/surface), identify targets, and coordinate strikes.

In FY2024, the USAF expects to receive $522 million for the CCA programme, which is ten times greater than in FY2022.

Very no information exists regarding NGAD. Nonetheless, NGAD planes are expected to fly over the enormous Pacific Ocean. This necessitates a highly long range, a fast cruise speed, and, of course, stealth.

The NGAD budget request for the fiscal year 2024 is $1,933 billion, up from $1,658 million in the fiscal year 2023.

In addition to aircraft, the USAF plans to spend on developing and acquiring sophisticated aerial bombs. General Brown emphasised the purchase of the AGM-158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range), a stand-in attack weapon (SiAW) that can be installed in the F-35’s internal armament bays. AGM-88G AARGM-ER (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range), new long-range air-to-air missiles AIM-260 JATM (Joint Advanced Tactical Missile), and an updated version of AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles).


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