The U.S. Air Force is having trouble paying for the initial buys for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and may instead purchase F-15, F-16, or F-18 aircraft to provide a stop-gap capability in the near term as the F-35 fleet comes online. The service may buy up to 72 of the older model aircraft.
Aviation Week reported on comments from defense officials at the recent Defense IQ International Fighter Conference. The U.S. Air Force “is struggling to afford 48 F-35s a year” for the first years of full-rate production, a senior officer said. The service is also asking for price estimates for service life extension upgrades of current fighter aircraft as well as modernization estimates to allow the planes in service currently to be combat capable through the middle of this century. The U.S. Navy is also looking at reducing F-35 buys and diverting funds to aircraft already in service, such as the F-18 Super Hornet.
Air Force strategy would be for older aircraft to complement newer, modern aircraft like the F-35 and the F-22. Current aircraft in service, as well as any future old technology buys, could be directed towards lower intensity conflicts. The Air Force is also looking at modernizing the electronic combat capabilities on some F-15Es with a next generation jamming pod from Raytheon. Currently the Pentagon plans a total buy of 2457 F-35 fighters.
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