Air Force Fleet Wearing Down

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Senior Master Sergeant
Dec 19, 2006

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. - The Air Force's fleet of warplanes is older than ever and wearing out faster because of heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the service's top combat commander.

Gen. Ronald Keys, who leads the Air Combat Command, points to cracked wings on A-10 attack planes and frayed electrical cables on U-2 spy planes.

Compared to 1996, the Air Force now spends 87% more on maintenance for a warplane fleet that is less ready to fly, Air Force records show.

They also show that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, Air Force and other military aircraft are flying more missions in harsh environments.

Keys said he's concerned that policymakers will only pay attention when a plane either crashes on takeoff or over a city "because a wing falls off."

"I don't want to write a letter, or have my successor write a letter, 'Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith, your son or daughter are dead because the wing fell off on takeoff. We knew it was going to fall off, we just didn't know when.' That's kind of what we're getting down to," Keys said.

Arcing wires near fuel tanks recently forced the Air Force to ground its fleet of 33 U-2 spy planes in March for at least a day, Keys said.

The average Air Force warplane is 23.5 years old compared with 8.5 years in 1967. In 2001, the average plane was 22 years old.

The Air Force says it wants to buy new planes to lower the average age of its fleet to 15 years over the next two decades. That will cost an estimated $400billion.

There are 356 A-10s in service. The plane is often used to support ground forces in close combat. The A-10 carries missiles and bombs, but its cannon is particularly effective in strafing.

The Air Force recently bought replacement wings for 132 of its workhorse A-10s at $7 million per plane. The Air Force wants another $34 million for more replacement wings this year.

In the past week, A-10s have attacked enemy forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The planes shot at and bombed Taliban rebels in Afghanistan; in Iraq, A-10s performed a variety of reconnaissance missions to find and stop insurgents from burying roadside bombs.

Aircraft age is misleading, said Christopher Bolkcom, a national security analyst at the Congressional Research Service. Some aircraft may have been lightly used for years and have safe flying hours left. Maintaining old planes may be expensive but often cheaper than buying a new aircraft, he said.

"Chronological age is only one measure of aircraft health," Bolkcom said. "Age is not a safety issue."

While refurbished planes often fly as well as new ones, they may also require more crewmembers to fly and maintain them, said James Jay Carafano, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "These life-cycle costs really matter," he said.

Air Force Fleet Wearing Down
Costly thing having to maintain such a powerful force Comiso90 but at least the guys on the ground are getting really good support IMO although old the A10 is still a great machine which must have saved directly or more over indirectly many lives.
Yeah. I still haven't figured out how anyone can claim that the F-35 is going to replace the A-10. Seems like overkill and a weak justification for higher numbers of the Lightning II.
I read an interesting article about the problem of the age of the aircraft in the USAF.

a) To sum up, the average new purchase over the last few years has been 60 aircraft per annum. If this were to continue, it would take 100 years to replace the current inventory.

b) The average age of USAF aircraft was 22 years in 2003 and will increase to 29 years in 2013 if, and its a big if, all current planned aircraft are delivered in full and as expected.

c) The airforce asked to reduce certain aircraft in the 2007 budget and close certain airbases to save money. Then spend that on updating certain planes and replacing others, but this was refused by the political powers that be, who then refused the additional funds needed for updating.
Congress used the phrase 'The airforce may be happy to potentially pay for future plans at the expense of its existing force, Congress was not minded to take that risk.'
They may have a point but by withholding the money, ignoring proposed ideas and not putting any ideas forward, there is a rail crash on the way

d) certain key types e.g. KC135E, or roles CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) battlefield transport C130 E-H, continue to have their future replacements or decisions on the same delayed due to appeals from business or interrested parties.

The article mentions that the US sometimes refer to the British forces as the Flintstones due to the age of our equipment.
Well, with the introduction of the Typhoon, F35, C130K and the C17 The introduction of new build Hawks, Merlin, new build Lynx plus the ordering of a new tanker due shortly, the title Flintstones is in danger of being passed back.

If you can get a copy the article is in the May edition of Air International. It does say thigs I would question but on the age issue its hard to fault.
The A-10s have been dealing with that problem since the 90s.... it's not new at all. The USAF has an enormous budget - but they allocate their funds foolishly... I would like to see their budget slashed and allocated to the Army and USMC, which are carrying the burden of the war.
The A-10s are undergoing a renewal as we speak. They are being outfitted with new mission gear to allow laser designation, upgrades for commo gear and weapons compatibility. Likely next step is new engines. They are going to be around for a while. Likely into the late 2020s.

And to think they were going to phase them out in the 1990s.
The average age of USAF aircraft was 22 years in 2003 and will increase to 29 years in 2013 if, and its a big if, all current planned aircraft are delivered in full and as expected.

That's practically New-in-box by USMC standards. Candy pants chair force :D
Ours is probably 35 years old the F18's are 1980 vintage although the Electronics should be Ok

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