US Air Force secretary says the service needs to get rid of aircraft that don’t threaten China

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  • The US Air Force secretary has said repeatedly the US needs to get rid of old aircraft to hone capabilities that ‘scare China.’

  • “If it doesn’t threaten China, why are we doing it?” he said recently.

  • The Air Force chief of staff also wants to retire older aircraft, but the service faces pushback from Congress.

The US Air Force needs to retire older aircraft that are not well suited for a conflict with China to make way for newer systems with the capabilities necessary for great power conflict, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said again this weekend, according to Defense News.

“If it doesn’t threaten China, why are we doing it?” Kendall asked at the Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday, calling the service’s 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 Department of Defense’s pacing challenge, as the secretary of defense has said repeatedly, and the Air Force secretary has made responding to that challenge a priority.

In August, shortly after Kendall was sworn in as the new civilian leader of the Air Force, he told Defense News that the service needs advanced and emerging technologies that “scare China” but is currently constrained by Congress’ unwillingness to retire outdated airframes.

“I love the A-10,” he recently told Reuters in his office at the Pentagon. “The C-130 is a great aircraft that’s been very capable and very effective for a lot of missions. The MQ-9s have been very effective for counterterrorism and so on.”

“They’re still useful,” Kendall said, “but none of these things scare China.”

Some Chinese air force leaders have responded publicly to the US Air Force secretary’s remarks.

“Recently a counterpart of mine who is from a major country claims that he wants to scare China,” Lt. Gen. Wang Wei, deputy commander of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, said in late September, South China Morning Post reported.”I can only say, if they are not scared, let us meet in the sky.”

The US military has spent decades waging war in the Middle East where the Air Force had unchecked air superiority and did not have to contend with sophisticated air-defense systems. That would probably not be the case in a great power fight, especially one with China, which is rapidly modernizing its military.

With the shift in focus to great power competition, the Air Force is having to rethink its aircraft inventory.

In its fiscal year 2022 budget request, the Air Force proposed mothballing over 200 aircraft, including A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, F-35C/D Eagles and F/16C/D Fighting Falcons, KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders, C-130 Hercules transport planes, E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, and RQ-4 Globe Hawk drones, all older platforms.

Around two weeks before the release of the service’s budget proposal, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles CQ Brown said that he wanted to eventually trim 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 being developed.

The Air Force argues that retiring aircraft that are no longer able to adequately meet the threats the US faces from major powers would free up funds for new, higher-end capabilities that would otherwise have to be used to cover the repair and maintenance costs for decades-old aircraft.

Lawmakers in Congress, however, push back every year, challenging Air Force interests in retiring “old iron,” as Kendall put it recently. Brown argues this jeopardizes US national security interests.

“We will not have the capabilities for any future crisis and contingencies,” he told Defense News. “That concerns me. If we don’t [change], we’re going to lose aspects of our national security because we’re holding on to the past.”

Expressing very similar concerns, Kendall previously told the defense outlet that if you are “hamstrung by the fact that you can’t divest bases you don’t need [and] you can’t divest aircraft you don’t need, you can’t take the steps that you need to modernize.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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