As part of its $185.1 billion Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the U.S. Air Force seeks to retire more than 300 legacy aircraft from its fleet. The retirements would include 32 F-22 Raptors. The Air Force argues that the fifth-generation air superiority fighters aren’t combat certified. In addition, the service has put 57 F-15C/D Eagles on the chopping block.
In April, Air Force leaders told the House Armed Services Committee that the savings would go to research, development, testing, and evaluation for future platforms.
While the Eagles could soon see their wings clipped, the Raptors will likely remain in service, Breaking Defense reported, citing the text of Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers’ markup of the Fiscal Year 2024 defense policy bill.
F-22: ‘Old’ Warbirds Will Still Fly?
The Air Force sought permission to retire the Block 20 Raptors and emphasized that the aircraft are not combat-coded. Last year Congress blocked the retirement, and while there was confidence that the divestments would be granted this year, lawmakers are still unlikely to allow the move.
“FY23 prohibition on retirements for F-22’s still stands,” a senior committee aide told Breaking Defense on Wednesday. “Members view that the F-22 proposal is problematic because the Block 20 is combat capable depending on the threat environment; our most advanced F-22, the Block 30/25 aircraft, would then be required to absorb the training pipeline workload, adding unnecessary wear and tear to our most combat-capable fleet and very small fleet of remaining F-22s.”
Another issue is that the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter that will replace the F-22 Raptor “is still many years away from fielding and in its earliest stages of development,” the aide added. It was only last month that the Air Force announced an upcoming competition to supply NGAD’s systems.
NGAD Still On Track
As previously reported, the Air Force seeks to avoid the costly mistakes that plagued past programs including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Moreover, the NGAD is more than a single aircraft. It will include a sixth-generation manned aircraft and unmanned Collaborative Combat Aircraft, previously known as Loyal Wingmen.
Earlier this year, the Air Force requested $1.9 billion in research and development funds for the NGAD project.
Though it now seems lawmakers won’t allow the Air Force to retire the F-22s, it does appear that the House Armed Services Committee will cut all funding to the Air Force’s troubled Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). Though the program to develop the hypersonic missile failed, the Air Force still sought $150 million in R&D funds in FY24 to allow ARRW to complete the program’s all-up-round testing.
Service officials suggested it was critical to evaluate the weapon’s performance. With funds denied, the testing will be truncated and the program ended after the current year.
The AGM-183 ARRW was to be a hypersonic air-to-ground missile equipped with a rocket motor that speeds it up to more than Mach-5 before it glides to its target. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $480 million Air Force contract in August 2018 to develop the air-launched hypersonic weapon. In March, the Air Force announced it wouldn’t pursue further development of the ARRW, and instead would look to support a different initiative by rival Raytheon Corp.
However, as Breaking Defense also reported, provisions for both the F-22 and ARRW could still change as the full committee debates the legislation, which must then be approved by the House and negotiated with counterparts in the Senate.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.