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General: Replace Aging Aircraft Or Risk Irrelevancy

Says 'Procurement Holiday' Must End To Maintain Readiness

The commander of Air Force Materiel Command, which is responsible for delivering war-winning capabilities to the rest of the Air Force, said during a recent visit to Air University at Alabama's Maxwell Air Force Base that Air Force officials must develop and buy new aircraft or risk the service becoming irrelevant.

The Air Force must be careful not to be outclassed in the next war, said Gen. Bruce Carlson (above) shortly after speaking with Air War College and Squadron Officer School students February 27 about the importance of recapitalizing the Air Force's aging fleet to maintain air dominance.

"Soon we could be flying against aircraft and air defense systems that our older aircraft were not intended to fly against," Carlson said. "And if we don't have the freedom to operate in hostile territories, we risk fighting the next conflict on our home territory."

The recapitalization crisis Air Force leaders see today is a side effect of the United States winning the Cold War, the General said. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States took on the title of the world's only remaining superpower. As a result, national priorities shifted away from defense projects.

"The decision was made to reduce the defense budget for more domestic priorities because there was no longer a threat," the general explained. "This is when we went on what has been called a 'procurement holiday.'"

Unlike Army and Marine Corps assets that were able to reconstitute after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Carlson said the Air Force has remained in an almost constant state of "war" for more than 17 years.

Leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Air Force aircraft were charged with enforcing the no-fly zones in Iraq for more than a decade as part of operations Northern and Southern Watch. Additionally, Air Force aircraft also spearheaded NATO's strategic bombing campaign against the Serbian government in the Balkans in the late 1990s.

In recent years, Carlson said, required maintenance on the F-15 Eagle has skyrocketed to 600-700 hours more than official estimates. As ANN reported last November, one of the older F-15 models assigned to the Missouri Air National Guard broke in half during a routine training mission... prompting the Air Force to ground the entire F-15 fleet for several weeks.

"We're getting into unknown territory because we've been flying airframes longer than expected," Carlson said. "We didn't build these aircraft to last this long, and we didn't expect to see corrosion of this magnitude. The F-15 is expected to remain in service until it's more than 40 years old. At this rate, maintenance costs are going to kill us."

In an Associated Press report last week, one senior Air Force official talked about the serious effects caused by the high operations tempo and G-force stress on older fighters. Gen. John Corley, Air Combat Command commander, said flight hours on aircraft like the F-15 could be compared to "dog years."

As China continues to modernize its military forces and Russian aircraft continue to test American responses near Alaska and Japan, the Air Force is at a critical point in maintaining air, space and cyberspace dominance, Carlson said.

"There are others out there who are trying to build up their airpower so they can exert their will over us," he said.

(Aero-News thanks Staff Sgt. Jason Lake, Air University Public Affairs)



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