The USAF is considering the abrupt retirement of 323 fighters to save money for modern replacement aircraft, Reuters reports. The service could cut 137 F-15s, 177 F-16s and nine A-10s from the force in the 2010 budget.
Not surprisingly, the service's public response is that the cuts are one option in its planning for the 2010 budget request and that it is premature to discuss them in public. In context, too, the USAF's budget experts have been warning that there is not enough money around to replace all its fighters with F-35s at the planned rate, and the service continues to respond to demands to expand its UAV force, and wants a new bomber as well.
However, it's very notable that plans like these get leaked when the USAF, for the first time in millennia, is not led by a dyed-in-the-scarf fighter general. One source says that planners have been saying for some years that cutting the fighter force is the only way to balance the books, but have been stonewalled by the high command.
Most likely candidates for the chop would be older F-16s and F-15s, particularly those that are still waiting for upgrades. Eliminating those aircraft has a dual benefit, saving money on the procurement side as well as on operations and support.
The report suggests that the move would be both good and bad news for JSF. Ultimately, the USAF wouldn't need as many aircraft (the program of record still includes 1,763 F-35As). But the plan is also designed to support the USAF's full F-35 buy - around 110 aircraft per year - in the early years of the program, while the effects of any cutback would not be felt until 2025 or later.