The challenges facing the Air Force are the product of calculated risks.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Air Force’s fleet was still relatively young and highly capable due to the robust Cold War-era investments.
After fall of the Berlin Wall, multiple Administrations limited investment in the AF fleet to net a “peace dividend.”
Programs like the B-2 were cancelled.
The inventory was reduced by 45%–increasing op-tempo per tail.
A robust recapitalization plan was scheduled for the following decade with C-17, C-130J, E-10, KC-X, F-22 and F-35.
OEF and OIF dramatically altered this plan, further delaying recapitalization.
Combat operations consumed record-level defense budgets.
The legacy fleet was downsized to fund procurement and fleet upgrades.
Programs like E-10 and F-22 were cancelled, leaving requirements unfulfilled, and the KC-X, CSAR-X, bomber, and F-35 were delayed.
Without a significant increase in AF procurement accounts, the Service will not be able to recapitalize its fleet in a sustainable fashion.
Legacy aircraft, while robust in the 1980s and 1990s, are nearing the end of their structural lives and operational viability.
Either we invest in the AF, or we sunset roles and missions by default.