Each year, the Department of Defense issues a 30-year aviation plan, intended to chart the direction of the aviation enterprise. This plan is typically relatively short on specifics, in part because 30 years is rather far to foresee in detail, particularly as that goes 25 years beyond official defense budget projections.
By contrast, the most recent 30-year aviation plan released in April 2018 is full of details on specific programs, including cancellations, life extensions, and new starts. Some are explicit; others, between the lines. Some of the highlights follow.
The Air Force previously announced plans to retire the air-superiority F-15CEagle. But this plan declares an intention to refresh and extends the life of the F-15E Strike Eagles, the attack variant.
The Air Force has also decided to extend the life of its F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet. What do the F-15E and the F-16 have in common? They are both slated to be replaced by the F-35 Lightning II.
This new plan may show the Air Force hedging in case F-35s do not arrive as fast as hoped and thus has to extend existing airframes to fill the gap. The target quantity of F-35s has not changed; the Air Force still expects to buy 1,763. But in case they do not arrive as quickly as anticipated, the Air Force seeks to update itsolder aircraft.
The Air Force’s intention to recapitalize its tanker fleet is on the record, with a program underway to buy 179 KC-46 Pegasuses. In this plan, the Air Force reveals a conclusion that the existing program is not enough, announcing an intention both to buy more KC-46s than anticipated and to continue to upgrade the existing KC-135s.
The previous intent was to retire KC-135s, but now the Air Force seeks to make them last longer instead.
Click here for the full fact sheet (2 PDF pages), hosted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.