Skip to comments.(US) Air Force Fighter Fleet in 'Crisis'
Posted on 01/11/2008 4:39:08 AM PST by sukhoi-30mki
Air Force Fighter Fleet in 'Crisis'
By RICHARD LARDNER 12 hours ago
WASHINGTON (AP) Years of stress on the Air Force's aging jet fighter fleet have led to serious structural problems that could grow worse even after expensive repairs are made, senior service officials said Thursday.
Gen. John Corley, the top officer at Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va., called the situation a "crisis" that would be best solved by an infusion of costly new aircraft rather than fixing jets that are 25 years old.
The mechanical troubles, most acute in the F-15 Eagles used to protect the United States, also have led to a patchwork approach to filling critical air missions at home and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With nearly a third of the F-15 fleet grounded due to a defective support beam in the aircraft's frame, other fighter aircraft, including F-16s and new F-22s, are being shifted from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's a rob Peter to pay Paul," Corley said at a Pentagon news conference. "It's unprecedented to have an air superiority fleet that's on average 25 years old."
The Air Force's dilemma has been largely overshadowed by the equally urgent demands from the Army and Marine Corps for new equipment to replace the battle gear worn down by more than six years of war. That changed on Nov. 2 when an F-15C aircraft broke in two during a training flight over Missouri.
The pilot, Maj. Stephen Stilwell, barely had time to eject from the front half of the F-15. His left shoulder was dislocated and his left arm shattered as the cockpit blew apart.
An investigation of the crash released Thursday concluded that a defective aluminum beam in the frame cracked, causing the $42 million jet to disintegrate in the air. There was no pilot error.
More troubling, however, were the findings of a parallel examination that determined as many as 163 of the workhorse F-15s also have the flawed beams, called longerons. The aircraft remain grounded as the Air Force tries to determine how broad the problem is and whether fixes should be made. Another 19 of the aircraft have yet to be inspected and also remain grounded.
In the report on Stilwell's crash, Col. William Wignall, the lead investigator, said that prior to Stilwell's flight, "no inspection requirements existed for detecting a crack in the longeron."
The F-15A through D models were built by McDonnell Douglas. That company merged with the defense manufacturing giant, Boeing Co., in August 1997.
The faulty longerons "failed to meet blueprint specifications," according to the Air Force. No decision has been reached as to whether Boeing might be liable for the repairs, however.
"This is the starting point of answering that question," said Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, a senior Air Force acquisition official. "So now that we have the evidence of what happened in (Stilwell's) case, it will all boil down to what our contractual relationship was with the manufacturer at the time."
Nearly 260 of the A through D model F-15s, first fielded in the mid-1970s, were returned to flight status Tuesday following fleet-wide inspections.
The Air Force's fleet of 224 newer F-15E Strike Eagles do not have defective longerons. Those jets, whose role is more oriented toward ground attack missions, were temporarily grounded after Stilwell's crash, but returned to service shortly thereafter.
The longeron helps support the cockpit and strengthen the jet as it moves through high-stress maneuvers while traveling hundreds of miles per hour.
Corley said even if the longerons in the older F-15s are replaced a procedure that costs $250,000 per beam there's no guarantee that other parts won't go bad.
"You may wind up with an airplane that is already so far beyond it's economic service life, that to throw a quarter of million dollars at it to replace a bad part may be a bad idea," he said. "That may be buying way too much risk. We've already bought too much risk because we've bought too little iron over the years."
The F-16, fielded in the late 1970s, is undergoing an extensive modernization program, Corley said. So, too, is the tank-killing A-10, a 30-year old plane used to support troops on the ground.
"This is systemic," Corley said.
The Air Force has fielded more than 90 F-22 Raptors, a stealth fighter made by defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. But these aircraft cost $160 million apiece and the Pentagon has decided to buy only 183. The Air Force has said it needs 381 F-22s and has support on Capitol Hill for a larger acquisition that would keep require tens of billions of dollars.
The F-35 Lightning is another new fighter that is being built but won't be in use for several more years.
Corley said the Air Force does not want to buy more F-15s.
"I flew this airplane 30 years ago," said Corley, an F-15 instructor pilot in 1979 when he was a captain. "It was best of breed at its time. It's not anymore. All options on the table, yes. But is it where I would turn to now? No."
By contrast, the F-22 is a modern plane that meets the Air Force's needs for an air combat jet, he said.
"The hot running production line that the United States Air Force has right now for fighter aircraft is the F-22," Corley said. "That line has the capacity. So you'd have to ask yourself, 'Can I buy F-22s?'"
$250,000 or $161 Million??? hmmmmmm The original design is 30 years old but the current version is not. They are a very good tool and meet the need. The F22 is sexy but how many of those are really needed.
“$250,000 or $161 Million??? hmmmmmm”
It’s how the govt spends our money.
What a crock. Typical MSM story. The beam has reached it's service life. It is not "defective" it lasted almost exactly as long as it was suppose to. When you brakes wear out on your car are they "defective"?
$250,000 is chump change. Why haven’t they started a repair program already? Answer AF politics.
The answer is to build 25,000 hi tech but still cheap piston/prop aircraft like the Skyraider or the P51 or basically any pre=jet prop attack aircraft and put the most modern missiles on them, would be quicker to build this fleet and a whole lot cheaper. The other nations cannot afford to mass build even copies of a Raptor and its a sucker game to chase them by trying to out do them, the answer is LOTS of cheap aircraft and un-manned aircraft.
Limit the production of the solid gold planes to enough to get the job done. The days of dogfights is over.
You're right. It is basically a little over one man-year (give or take a little). That is 1 person for 1 year. That's nothing! (in DoD terms)
I concur. There are a lot of missions that just require bombs on target. If you don’t have to worry about enemy fighters or SAMS then there is no need to put extra stress on an expensive airframe.
That being said:
1. You still need to fly these a lot to keep pilots trained
2. AF planes ARE getting very old. The last B-52 rolled off in 1962 and most of today’s fighters were designed in the late 60s, early 70s. It is a crime that it takes nearly a generation to produce a new fighter.
What part of the AF budget process is faulty? Do you even have a clue about what the Air Force asked for in its five year budget and what was approved by Congress? What would you have done differently?
Interesting how the AP writer carefully manages to ignore the F-117 which has proven itself very effective, especially in Iraq.
While an apples and corn comparison, it is worth noting that the B-52, an aircraft that is over 50 years old, remains one of the Air Force’s workhorses. In fact, some of today’s B-52 flight crews are flying the same aircraft flown by their fathers!
The article also fails to note that in ANY offensive campaign, the Air Force is one ONE part of the total airborne offensive weapons capability of America. The author deftly manages to avoid including the contributions made by Navy and Marine fighters.
So, while the article attempts to make us feel uneasy about the capability of the Air Force, IMO, we have little to worry about. The Air Force will eventually get its fighter problems sorted out and the US still has plenty of fighters available for air combat roles (should they be needed) courtesy of the Navy and Marines.
The airplanes aren't just a platform for missiles. They are an integrated weapons system. The weapons integrate with the high tech electronics on board the aircraft. Weapons like the AMRAAM use the aircraft radar system to guide the weapon close enough to a target to acquire it on the missile's own radar system. You can't just strap a missile on a WWII fighter and have it work.
There are a lot of planes out there that are as good or better than the F-15 (The F1 and MIG 29). There are also a lot of high tech SAMS out there that are a threat to non-stealth aircraft. That's why we need a stealthy fighter and not some WWII Antiques. Also, the more planes you have the more support personnel you need to keep them flying. You need about 14 people per aircraft for maintenance and each of those folks need to get fed, paid, etc. There comes a point when you reach a diminishing return.
The idea of using a lot of cheap planes isn't really viable because you need a lot of expendable pilots to fly them. The US Air Force philosophy is to use fewer aircraft with better training and technology. We tried it the other way during WWII and lost as many as 60% of the aircraft on a single bombing mission.
Probably because the F-117 is being retired even as we speak.
Any target worth destroying is going to be defended by SAMs and Air to Air support if it hasn't been knocked out by the F-15s.
The US Air Force had 62% of the aircraft during Desert Storm, but took out 92% of the targets. I'm not downplaying to role of the Navy and Marines, but their aircraft don't have the range of the Air Force planes because they're limited by the need to fly from carriers. The Marines are primarily used for tactical targets and close air support and one of the key missions of the Navy is to protect the fleet.
Where do you get 25,000 pilots willing to fly “cheap crap”?
Not if you’re going against the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The exception would be shoulder fired SAMS, but those are likely older versions that we have good CM for. And against those targets, they probably won’t even know you’re there until things blow up real good.
The question is not even remotely that simple ... that's the sort of thinking I expect from the MSM.
1) $250K does not guarantee a solution long term
2) $161 Mil is the total program cost for each plane, based on the size of the production run. Make more, and the cost per plane drops. Some of that $161 Mil has already been spent; it's the R&D.
We need more Raptors.
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