Oddly enough, the United States is also thinking about what will happen in 20-30 years in terms of weapons. And not only because many projects, for which billions fly away, end in nothing. Simply because, indeed, technology is not eternal, and sooner or later it will have to be changed either to a more modern one, or to one that is no worse.
The American magazine "Air Force Magazine" published an article by John Tirpak about the development prospects of the US Air Force.
Indeed, today the US Air Force faces very difficult tasks. The aircraft fleet must be renewed, and moreover, the task has been set to minimize the diversity of aircraft in service as much as possible. This is a really tricky thing. Only five models of fighter-bombers.
Yes, the production of the F-22 has been discontinued, but the already built aircraft will be in service until the end of their service life. The A-10, which fought back in the 70s of the last century, will not go anywhere either, it simply has no replacement yet, like the Russian Su-25. The F-35 is generally the winged question of the century, with this aircraft there are indeed more questions than answers.
And what is left to close your eyes and answer the question “What to fly tomorrow”?
Yes, the same F-15 and F-16. Well, F / A-18 in the Navy.
Interestingly, in the most advanced country in terms of armament costs, everything is about the same as in Russia. That is, the fleet of military equipment is very much reminiscent of the blessed 80s of the last century, when in many countries there was a fantastic breakthrough in weapons.
Indeed, both the American F-15 and F-16, and the Russian Su-30 and Su-35 - they all come from there.
It is clear that the United States will do everything to bring the F-35 to mind. Or, in the long term, supplement it with one more new aircraft, which will be expected to be developed.
In addition, these developments are spurred on by the fashion for unmanned fighters, which are increasingly occupying the minds of designers and the military.
Today, the US Air Force is really in a state of transition. They pass from the 80s to the 40s of the next century, from the 20th to the 21st century. It's difficult, but real.
For this "only" it is only necessary to write off some of the old aircraft and replace them with new ones. Well, and find funds for this, of course. And the funds should be spent both on development and on the construction of new aircraft, which, not on paper, but in fact, will be able to be on an equal footing with the machines of Russia and China, which are increasingly aggressively conquering both the sky and the international market. And something must be done with this intrusion.
In a June 2021 speech to the U. S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, U. S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles K. Brown, Jr. stated that failure to act now is a clear possibility that China could defeat the U. S. in a likely air war. the future.
In general, many military personnel in the United States today are very closely watching both the development of aviation in other countries and the development of air defense systems. This is especially true of China, whose army is now in a state of long-term and rather rapid development.
US Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Hinote believes that the Chinese J-20 fighter with an advanced new generation air-to-air missile could become a real threat to the superiority of American aircraft.
If we consider that the J-20 in the PRC is also testing the J-31, from which the Chinese expect about the same results as in the USA from the F-35 after the F-22, then there is reason for some concern.
And as you know, if the United States sees something as a cause for concern, then the Americans will turn their backs to eliminate this anxiety.
Therefore, the US launched the CAPE (Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation) program, which is being implemented by the US Department of Defense and the General Staff. The program will study the real state of tactical aviation and adjust the plan for the development of fighter and assault aviation in terms of time and money.
It is clear that the "research" of tactical aviation in the United States will not give a final answer on what the composition of aviation should be by the turn of 2040, the situation in the world is changing, but nevertheless, plans must be developed and adjusted. But the development of the entire structure of the US Air Force will depend on what conclusions will be made in the framework of the research of this program.
There are assumptions on the basis of which it can be concluded that fighter aircraft will be reduced from seven types of aircraft to "4 + 1", where "4" is the F-35, on which the United States has high hopes today, the new F-15EX, F-16 or a promising aircraft replacing it and again a promising NGAD. "+1" is the good old A-10, which has no replacement yet, even in principle.
This alignment was voiced by one of the generals of the Air Force headquarters, Brown. That is, a knowledgeable person. What's interesting on the list?
The main "surprise" is the absence of the F-22 and F-15C / D and E in the list. Everything is clear with the former. "Raptors" were released not so much that one could seriously count on them or spend resources on modernization. So the Raptors will not be involved in the future of US aviation. Too little and too expensive are the two main reasons.
The F-22 will gradually be phased out from the US Air Force, given that it will be 25 years old by 2030, it's time to say goodbye to it. By that time, it will become more or less clear with the F-35, and the NGAD project can move to the stage of active testing.
As Hinote said, "The F-22 is a good performance aircraft, but it has its limitations."
Therefore, the Air Force headquarters are well aware that they simply cannot afford to rely on the Raptor in the future. With the help of this aircraft, it is impossible to confidently gain air superiority, even if the F-22 goes through a series of upgrades. Hinote emphasized this, saying that air supremacy is not a topic that they are willing to take risks with using the F-22.
Well, one of the last nails in the coffin lid was hammered by the deputy chief of staff of the US Air Force for plans and programs, Lieutenant General David Nahom. The general believes that the US Air Force simply cannot, purely financially, in the long term, afford to maintain seven types of aging fighters.
Seven types are too many and, again, too expensive. Nakhom voiced an unpleasant figure: 44% of the US Air Force planes are approaching the threshold of their service life.
The same F-15C has already reached the planned limit of service life and there is no point in extending its resource, because it is unsafe, firstly, and economically unprofitable, secondly. Yes, the US Air Force today has the latest modification of the F-15EX, which should replace the frankly outdated F-15C, which already have speed and load limits, and if successful, the F-15EX will also replace the F-15E.
Today, the average age of US Air Force fighters is 28 years old. This is an alarming figure that signals in red the necessary renewal of the fighter aircraft fleet. The F-15EX is the fastest way to reduce this figure.
An interesting moment, during which a parallel with Russian reality runs like a red thread.
According to Pentagon sources, the new F-15EX costs about the same as the new F-35. However, as such, the F-15 has long been known and tested, plus the cost of operating it is much lower than that of the F-35.
This is reminiscent of Russian realities, when the Russian Aerospace Forces abandoned the Su-57 in favor of the time-tested and operation of the Su-35. And this is completely normal.
And here the US Air Force command followed the same path. Re-equipping squadrons from the F-15C to the F-15EX will take much less time and effort than similar actions with the F-35. Rearmament on the F-35 is much more difficult, requiring the construction of new military facilities, equipment, and specialists. Moreover, trained and trained specialists. Plus, separate retraining of pilots for another aircraft, it also costs money.
Money must be spent wisely, that's a fact. Even the presence of such a huge financial resource as the defense budget in the United States does not mean that this resource is endless.
Accordingly, when today we are constantly talking about cuts in the defense budget, it makes sense to replace outdated aircraft with the new F-15EX, which can be in sufficient quantities today. Yes, the plane is still only a fourth generation fighter, but it will definitely not be opposed to the J-31 and Su-57 armadas. So in this regard, everything looks more or less logical.
By 2026, the US Air Force plans to write off and decommission a huge number - 421 aircraft. And only 304 planes will have time to replace them. That is, the net reduction will be 117 aircraft, and this turns out to be the largest reduction in the US Air Force in the last two decades.
This is a very serious point.
All 234 F-15C fighters are to be decommissioned by the end of 2026. Only 84 F-15EX fighters will be replaced. The Boeing manufacturer is not able to release more within the allotted time. Another 60 fighters will become the second series, and in total the contract with Boeing provides for the production of up to 200 aircraft.
Yes, the F-15EX looks much more confident against the background of the "oldies" F-15C and E. The "air truck with weapons" will have a long range due to the presence of a new system of fuel tanks, two additional suspension assemblies for weapons, the ability to carry large-sized weapons of the "air-to-ground" class.
So the alignment is quite: F-15EX as the main fighter-bomber and F-35 as an aircraft for special operations.
F-22 and F-16 will be disabled. Yes, the same Raptor will serve for some time, but definitely not until 2040, since even constantly modernizing this aircraft it is unrealistic to drag it for another 20 years. In addition, the Americans themselves say that this aircraft simply will not be able to become competitive, despite all the upgrades.
And the "Battle Falcon" F-16 will also be "dragged" until they make new F-15EX. The earliest, first "blocks" of the F-16 will be decommissioned, these are 124 aircraft, and the remaining 812 after 2026 will be used until the resource is exhausted, upgrading as far as funds allow.
Many more aircraft may be decommissioned. According to the calculations of the Air Force headquarters, about 600 aircraft will be enough to ensure the country's security in the next 15 years to participate in all possible conflicts. The only question is which theaters of military operations and which opponents will have to fight.
Of course, in order to fight terrorists and provide air defense for the United States itself, the modernized F-16 is quite enough. If the hostilities are conducted against countries with developed and decent air forces, then the effectiveness of the F-16 is openly questioned. Moreover, by the Americans themselves.
Yes, the same F-35 could play the role of a "universal soldier" if its operation were not so ruinous. In general, with the cost of using the F-35, something needs to be decided, or, as an option, all efforts must be devoted to testing an alternative, a promising multi-role fighter Multi-Role Fighter-Experimental (MR-X).
The developments are not yet carried out at the fastest pace, but there is information that in 6-8 years the time will come to make a decision on this project.
Yes, over the next years, from 2025 to 2030, the US Air Force plans to purchase 220 F-35A. This is, of course, a significant figure, but it will not be able to compensate for all the old aircraft that will be decommissioned. So the F-15EX is really the only reasonable option for the US Air Force.
Speaking of the A-10, it should be said that the resource of the attack aircraft at the disposal of the Air Force is also not eternal. And the "Warthogs" will also be reduced to seven squadrons, 218 units. There are plans to modernize the existing A-10 by replacing the wings and engines and thus extend it until 2035.
If you look closely at the A-10, it is an attack aircraft. An aircraft of the front line of battle, striking at the enemy, at its forward positions. How this aircraft can become useful in the US air defense system is a question.
The A-10 cannot fight other aircraft, it cannot carry out air defense of the continental part of the United States, and it cannot resolve issues of countermeasures against SEAD. Moreover, the low survivability of the A-10 and a rather narrow range of applications put an end to the future of not only this attack aircraft, but also projects that could come to replace the A-10.
There is heated debate at the Pentagon, Hinote said, as other branches of the armed forces insist on developing their own long-range strike systems, and in the future, close air support will be "very different" from today.
Accordingly, the set of aircraft that will protect the interests of the United States will also differ.
There is the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) system, which is the main focus of the US Air Force headquarters. More than $ 1.5 billion has already been spent on the development of the program, and within the framework of this program, projects for the aircraft of tomorrow are being developed. And they are being successful.
The first NGAD prototype has already taken off in 2020. The information is deeply secret, but there is information that altitude records were set as a result of the flights.
General Brown said the NGAD will be a "multipurpose" aircraft capable of engaging ground and air targets. " Brown said that the aircraft will receive all types of weapons that will help it solve all the tasks of hitting targets and ensure the survival of the aircraft. Plus NGAD "will have stealth across the entire spectrum."
NGAD is described as a "family of systems" that is likely to include unmanned escort aircraft for missions such as air defense suppression (SEAD), electronic warfare and carrying additional weapons.
The NGAD concept provides for a fairly small number of aircraft of a similar type, from 50 to 100 units. The aircraft will have to keep pace with the changing situation in the world and remain relevant. It is believed that it will be easier to design and manufacture a new generation aircraft in 6-12 years than to modernize old aircraft over a long period of time.
It is believed that this approach will be more rational and economical. It all comes down to technology and the system's responsiveness. The Air Force leadership would welcome the option of "bifurcating" the NGAD project into two sides: one for operations in the Pacific, with an increased range, and the other, for shorter distances in Europe and the Middle East.
However, Hinote honestly expressed doubt that 10 years would be enough to bring the first NGAD into operation. Despite the impression on the pilots, members of Congress who were admitted to the tests, and Hinote himself produced a flying prototype of the aircraft.
In addition, the leadership of the Air Force has not yet decided on what role drones or remotely controlled strike systems will play in the aircraft. And what they will be like. While work is underway to study low-cost autonomous attack systems Low-Cost Autonomous Attritable Systems (LCAAS).
LCAAS are primarily unmanned aircraft, cheap enough to be painlessly lost in any military campaign. Today, the US Air Force believes that after 2030, the correct combination and intelligent use of conventional and unmanned aircraft will be the key to success.
And for a snack the budget.
Interesting, but the budget is not so simple. In 2022, it is planned to withdraw from the Air Force 42 A-10 units, 48 F-15C / D units and 47 F-16C / D units.
And with such a number of decommissioned aircraft, only 48 F-35A units and 12 F-15EX units will be purchased. In addition, the US Air Force has requested 12 more F-15EX aircraft on its list of unfunded priorities presented to the US Congress in June 2021. And not a single additional F-35.
It is possible that the US Air Force is counting on the fact that Congress can add a certain number of aircraft to the program on its own initiative. But the main sources of information say that no more than 43 F-35 units will be ordered per year until the F-35 Block 4 version goes into production.
At the same time, it is believed that the F-35 is already outdated, since development on it began in the 80s of the last century.
The main task to be solved tomorrow by the US Air Force is the invention and purchase of aircraft that can effectively, without the infusion of additional funds, serve for 10-20 years. No longer. And without costly upgrades.
And an important point: pilots will use such aircraft without retraining. Flying throughout his career without wasting time retraining.
Hinote believes that if the US Air Force can solve such a complex of tasks, then the Americans will ensure air superiority in any region of the world.