Kendall Optimistic About OK From Congress For Fighter Cuts

U.S. Air Force F-22s land at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 12
Credit: U.S. Air Force

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall thinks Congress is more likely this year to accept controversial proposals to retire fleets of Lockheed Martin F-22 Block 20s and Fairchild Republic A-10s to help finance modernization programs.

Lawmakers stopped the Air Force last year from divesting both of those fleets while accepting proposals to retire other types of aircraft. But Kendall believes the opposition has lessened as panels on the House Armed Services Committee are set to mark up the fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill on May 11. 

“We have a much better chance they’ll go through this year,” Kendall said, speaking on May 9 at the Ash Carter Exchange on Innovation and National Security. “So I want to express some appreciation to Congress.”

The Air Force says both fleets are not relevant in a potential future conflict with China. The 32 F-22 Block 20s are reserved for training flights and would require expensive upgrades to become combat-eligible Block 30/35 aircraft. The A-10s, meanwhile, are effective at close air support, but lack the speed, agility and stealth required to be survivable on the battlefield. 

But some key lawmakers have still questioned the Air Force’s renewed proposals to retire both fleets. 

Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.)  has noted that the Air Force plans to retire 801 fighters between fiscal 2023-2028, yet order only 345 new Lockheed Martin F-35A and Boeing F-15EX aircraft over the same period. 

Although Wittman has said he is concerned that the Biden administration’s budget proposals risk reducing the U.S. to a regional power, he also said that modernization is needed. 

“I am concerned that our existing force structure is optimized for a counterinsurgency fight and is not prepared to address the challenges posed by expected threats in the INDOPACOM area,” Wittman said in a March 29 press release. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.