Thursday, January 11, 2007

Number and Age of US Air Force Aircraft

The US Air Force is the world’s dominant source of air and space power. As of September 30, 2005 the USAF had 5986 Aircraft in Service. Of these 4273 are active duty, 1313 Air National Guard and 400 reserve command.

Note: Data are from Air Force Almanac

An Ageing Fleet

How to preserve and extend that dominance is the question that keeps the high officials in Pentagon worry. Answer is easy: Procure advanced new aircraft and modernize the existing ones to maintain its current dominance of air, space, and cyberspace.

Average of active duty USAF fleet is 23 years, the oldest inventory USAF has operated since 1947. The oldest aircraft type is B-52, with average age of 44.[1] Up to 2012 the USAF will procure 612 aircraft but even then the average is of the fleet is expected to be around 28 years.

Source: T. A. Mehuron, The Graybeard Fleet, Air Force Magazine, February 2004, p. 12.

Source: General Bruce Carlson, Air Force Material Command and Air Force Smart Operations for the Twenty-First Century, Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2006.

Note: Data are from Air Force Almanac

The Air Force is operating the oldest aircraft fleet in the service’s history, mainly due to procurement reductions in 1990s and “freedom” operations since S-11. In fact, if the Air Force were called upon to fly all of its aircraft today, one-third would not be able to carry out their missions.[2]

What is most important to me is the averae age. It seems that while using average age the USAF refers to weighted average. Instead, if median age is used, then average age would be about 20 years. So, the difference in this particular case is about three years. Avreage age is better suited to Defense industry because it would show the aircraft fleet older and hence more convincing for the urgency of replacement.

Replacement Plans

The USAF has been trying hard to divest itself of old aircraft, such as F-117s, B-52s, KC-135Es, C-130E/Hs, C-5As, and U-2s. Of the 1033 aircraft slated for divestiture during the FY2006-2011 Future Years Defense Program, 347 had been blocked by legislative restrictions. More than a hundred of these aircraft have limited military utility because they have flight restrictions placed upon them due to structural and safety of flight issues. [3]

F-117[4] is being withdrawn from service because it is difficult and very expensive to maintain and does not fit in today’s war requirements (utility and capability), especially due to its weaknesses in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems. Because of its weaknesses, F-117 “no longer has military utility today and therefore we want to retire that platform.”[5] It is announced to be replaced by F-22s. But as far as weapons payload is concerned, the subsonic lazy whale F-117 can only be replaced by F-35.

But Gen. Faykes admit that the service will keep A-10 aircraft, which is much older than the F-117, because “it has great military utility and supporting the United States Army on the battlefield.” The service will re-wing and re-engine them. He admits that “so clearly it’s not about replacing old systems just to get new ones, it’s about the utility of those airplanes and remaining relevant in the skies for the 21st Century.” He adds that “The C-17 is built to last for about 30 years, fly about 1,000 hours a year, so 30,000 over a 30 years lifetime.” The Service will buy 22 more in FY07. Well well, I wish he also had given the cost comparisons just to shock the public.

For example, B-1 program took 27 years to develop with a cost of $54.2 billion and was considered to be a dismal failure. By 1994, DoD no longer considered the B-1B as a strategic weapon, which had been the sole purpose for its creation. It is now classified as a conventional weapon, having been replaced by B-2. In fact the old B-52 can fulfill the same mission, with slightly less payload. In a realistic world somebody would be blamed on.

Now a shocking part of Gen. Haykes’s speech: “The Air Force has lost nearly 120 airplanes since we began the Global War on Terror. Forty-six of those airplanes have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq -- either being shot down or aircraft accidents or some type of malfunction where we’ve lost the platform. Forty-six there and the rest in training, preparing for the war.” 120 planes in 5 years!

It takes fuel to deliver fuel

Fuel use imposes large logistical burdens. While numerous US military aircraft provide refueling services, the bulk of refueling capability lies in the Air Force fleet of 59 KC-10 and 543 KC-135 aircraft, or aerial refuellers.[7] The KC-10 aircraft are about 21 years in age, whereas average age of KC-135s is 44 years. This was the main reason a GAO report[8] in 2003 recommended recapitalizing KC-135 fleet will be crucial to maintaining aerial refueling capability, and also noted that that will be a very expensive undertaking.

It is therefore no surprise that General T. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, announced in October 2006 that KCX tanker is the Air Force's new number 1 procurement priority. According to a New York Times article on October 13, 2006 (Air Force seeks $13 billion to start replacing tankers) Air Force is seeking $13 billion over the next five years to replace their aging fleet of aerial refueling aircraft.

Preparations for Robotic Warfare

Now, robotic air vehicles are beginning to replace some of the manned combat aircraft: Predator MQ-1 and MQ-9 Reaper (both run on oil). Add to those black programs such as Polecat stealth UAV and a nuclear-powered UAV (speculation).

The Air Force now has provisional plans to buy some 170 Predator MQ-1s by 2010 and acquire 50 to 70 MQ-9s by around 2012, for a total of 220 or more of the combat-capable drones. At present, the service plans on retiring a comparable number of F-16s over the same period[9]…Reapor costs about $7 million, F-16 costs more than $30 million. But Reapor can do almost all what an F-16 can. But can stay much longer in the air.

Well, in the future the USAF will probably recruit teenagers who are very good in computer games.

There are many other programs but I will discuss them some time later on.

[1] 2006 USAF Almanac.
[2] The Air Force Association’s 2007 Statement of Policy adopted by AFA’s National Convention on September 24, 2006 in Washington DC, Air Force Magazine, December 2006, Vol. 89, No. 12, pp. 76-81.
[3] ibid.
[4] The F-117 was designed from the start (in 1970s) as a bomber. The first F-117 flew officially in June 1981. Even though it is called as a stealth fighter, it is in fact not an all weather aircraft. An F-177 was shot down in Kosovo in 1999.
[5] Maj. Gen Frank R. Faykes, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, for Financial Management, Comptroller, "Inside the Air Force Budget", Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Washington, D.C., September 26, 2006.
[7] These are large, long-range aircraft that have counterparts in the commercial airlines, but which have been modified to turn them into tankers. The KC-10 is based on the DC-10 aircraft, and the KC-135 is similar to the Boeing-707 airliner. For detailed descriptions, see, Gallery of USAF Weapons in 2006 USAF Almanac.
[8] Neal P. Curtin, MILITARY AIRCRAFT: Information on Air Force Aerial Refueling Tankers, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Projection Forces, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, United States General Accounting Office, GAO-03-938T.
[9] John A. Tirpac, “UAVs with Bite”, Air Force Magazine, Journal of the Air Force Association, Vol. 90, No.1, January 2007.

see also
Number and Age of US Army Combat Vehicles
Number and Age of US Navy Ships

Tags: US Air Force, US Military


At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Aerospace testing | AvionTEq said...

Nice! How did you gather those figures and where did you get those graphical images? These facts that are hard to find.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger sohbet karbuz said...

Sources are indicated in the footnotes. Yearly figures can be updated by using the Airforce Magazine's May issues.


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