- The US Air Force secretary has repeatedly said the US needs to get rid of old planes to hone capabilities that “scare China.”
- “If it doesn’t threaten China, why are we doing it?” he said recently.
- The Air Force’s chief of staff also wants to retire older aircraft, but the agency faces opposition from Congress.
The U.S. Air Force must retire older aircraft not well-suited for conflict with China to make way for newer systems with the capabilities needed for major power conflicts, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said again this weekend, according to Defense News .
“If it doesn’t threaten China, why are we doing it?” Kendall asked Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum, calling the fleet of aging fighters, tankers and drones an “anchor holding back the air force” as it works to respond to modern threats.
China is the Defense Ministry’s pacing challenge, as the Defense Secretary has repeatedly said, and the Secretary of the Air Force has made answering that challenge a priority.
In August, shortly after Kendall was sworn in as the Air Force’s new civilian chief, he told Defense News that the agency needs advanced and emerging technologies that “scare China,” but is currently limited by Congress’s reluctance to introduce outdated technologies. to take hulls out of service.
“I love the A-10,” he recently told Reuters in his Pentagon office. “The C-130 is a great aircraft that has been very capable and very effective for many missions. The MQ-9s have been very effective for counter-terrorism and so on.”
“They’re still useful,” Kendall said, “but none of these things scare China.”
Some Chinese Air Force leaders have publicly responded to the US Air Force Secretary’s comments.
“Recently, a counterpart of mine who is from a major country claims he wants to scare China,” Lieutenant General Wang Wei, deputy commander of the air force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said in late September, the South China Morning Post reported. “All I can say is, if they’re not afraid, let’s meet in the sky.”
The US military has waged war for decades in the Middle East, where the air force had unchecked air superiority and had no dealings with sophisticated air defense systems. That probably wouldn’t be the case in a major power battle, especially with China, which is rapidly modernizing its military.
With the shift in focus to major power competition, the Air Force must rethink its aircraft inventory.
In its fiscal year 2022 budget request, the Air Force proposed to shut down more than 200 aircraft, including A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes, F-35C/D Eagles and F/16C/D Fighting Falcons, KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. , C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, and RQ-4 Globe Hawk drones, all older platforms.
About two weeks before the publication of the agency’s budget proposal, Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles CQ Brown said he eventually wanted to reduce the fighter fleet from seven fighter types to just four, namely the F-16, F-35, F- 15EX, and the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, which is still under development.
The Air Force argues that aircraft no longer able to adequately deal with the threats facing the US from major powers would free up money for new, more advanced capabilities that would otherwise have to be used to cut repair and maintenance costs for decades. years to cover -old planes.
However, lawmakers in Congress are pushing back every year, challenging Air Force interests to retire “old iron,” as Kendall put it recently. Brown argues that this endangers US national security interests.
“We will not have the capabilities for future crises and contingencies,” he told Defense News. “That worries me. If we don’t… [change], we are going to lose aspects of our national security because we cling to the past.”
Kendall expressed very similar concerns, previously telling the defense that if you’re “paralyzed by not being able to divest bases, you don’t [and] you can’t divest planes you don’t need, you can’t take the steps you need to modernize.”