On Monday, the US Air Force revealed its FY24 budget request of $215.1 billion, which is an increase of $9.4 billion (approximately 4.5%) over FY23 spending. This is as the service is seeking to retire dozens of its older F-22 Raptors fighter jets.

Since last year, the Air Force has publicly discussed its plans to decommission its most powerful air superiority aircraft, the F-22 Raptor, to make space for jets under development in the next-generation air dominance (NGAD) program.

Paving the Way for the Next Generation

Despite being relatively newer compared to the other aging jets (introduced in 2005), the F-22 has fewer units in inventory, and they are quite expensive to maintain and operate. Moreover, its design and avionics are also becoming increasingly dated; any efforts to modernize it would mean additional costs.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees, on behalf of the Pentagon, are trying to retain 33 older Raptors that the Air Force wanted to retire in FY23.

F-22 in Europe
(Image source: DVIDS)

If reductions are approved, this would significantly cut the number of active F-22s from 185 to 153. Eventually, the service intends to retire 310 aircraft to make room and focus the budget on future capabilities, including sixth-generation stealth combat jets.

The billion-dollar budget allocation also seeks to boost the Air Force’s capacity to meet the outlined seven operational imperatives, including:

  • Resilient Space Order of Battle
  • Advanced Battle Management System
  • Moving Target Engagement
  • NGAD Family of Systems
  • Resilient Forward Basing
  • B-21 Long Range Strike Family of Systems
  • Transition to a Wartime Posture

You can check out the rest of the FY24 budgetary overview here.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters during a Friday briefing that the outlined budget has considered “a reasonable balance between current-, midterm-, and longer-term investments, if you will, or capabilities.”

Moreover, Kendall emphasized the need to achieve these imperatives for the service branch to keep up with, if not remain ahead of, China’s fast military modernization expansion.

Renewing Fleet Strength

The 310 aircraft the Air Force plans to retire in 2024 include aging fighter jets fitted with outmoded airframes, such as the venerable A-10 Warthog (they will attempt to retire 42 in FY24) and about 57 nearly four-decade-old F-15 C/D Eagles.

As mentioned, dozens of F-22 Raptors will be endorsed for decommissioning alongside one B-1B Lancer bomber that experienced an engine fire last year in April. It will also try to propose a few more units of E-3 Sentry AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft for retirement next year.

Likewise, the service branch mentioned in FY24 the planned retirement for dozens of KC-10 Extender refueling tankers, around 48 Block 1 MQ-9 Reapers, and the remaining three E-8 JSTARS (joint surveillance target attack radar systems). They’re also considering decommissioning 52 T-1 Jayhawk jet trainers and 37 HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters.

Aside from the NGAD fighters, the Air Force seeks to replace the retiring aircraft with more of the sophisticated F-35 multi-role fighters, as well as the latest F-15EX Eagle II fighters and dozens of Boeing KC-46A Pegasus refueling tankers, to name a few.

Moreover, additional resources will be poured into the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, which would become NGAD’s and other incoming jets wingmen.

Kendall disclosed last week at a Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colorado, the plans of the Air Force to acquire 200 NGAD fighters and about 1,000 CCAs. These unmanned drones will be paired with air superiority fighters, acting as autonomous wingmen to manned aircraft.

This figure was derived from an assumed two CCAs per 200 NGAD platforms and an additional two for each of 300 F-35s for a total of 1,000,” he explained.

The DAF [Department of the Air Force] is moving forward with a family of systems for the next generation of air dominance,” Kendall added. “That will include both an NGAD platform and the introduction of uncrewed collaborative aircraft to provide affordable mass and dramatically increased cost-effectiveness.”

Kendall assured that the planned number of CCAs is of “nominal quantity” and will not affect the inventory of the anticipated fighter crew, saying, “One way to think of CCAs is as remotely controlled versions of the targeting pods, electronic warfare pods or weapons now carried under the wings of our crewed aircraft.”

Meanwhile, US Space Force requested $30 billion in its budget, up $3.9 billion compared to what Congress had enacted in FY23, becoming the “largest space budget ever” since the branch was founded in 2019.

This growth showcases the Department’s commitment to making the investments needed to implement the National Defense Strategy,” Major General Mike A. Greiner said, which likely includes developing and procuring missile-warning satellites, as well as for launch services.