From within and without the Pentagon, officials and analysts point to the need to increase airpower—strike and lift—in Iraq along with an increase in ground forces. Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times quotes “a senior Pentagon official” and others who spoke both of the need to consider airpower needs to support the Administration’s planned surge of ground troops and of a potential increase in air patrols off the Iraq-Iraq border aimed at weapons smugglers in particular—but also as a potent deterrent. One on-the-record official, Lt. Gen. Howie Chandler, Air Staff chief of operations, plans, and requirements, told Barnes that a need for more Air Force aircraft hasn’t been determined, but he would not “automatically write off airpower in an urban environment,” whether it be more intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance or strike missions.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.