About 40 percent of the Air Force’s F-15A-D aircraft—182 aircraft—are grounded indefinitely until they can be invasively tested for cracks in the coming months, Air Combat Command chief Gen. John D.W. Corley said yesterday at a Pentagon press conference in which he formally announced the results of an accident board into the Nov. 2, 2007 crash of a 28-year-old F-15C. Corley had cleared 259 Eagles to fly on Wednesday, but said that the absence of 40 percent of the fleet will be a serious operational problem for some time to come. “This a big deal,” Corley said. “This is huge.” Corley said having such a large percentage of the fleet down “does not allow air sovereignty alert” F-15 operations over the US and means F-16s and F-15Es that have been filling in for the grounded Eagles will continue to be “pulled” from planned deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no estimate of how long it will take to inspect the grounded aircraft, even though the specific fault being sought is now known. In the meantime, training operations will be truncated, classes of new F-15 pilots will be drawn out or delayed, and the Air Force will have to make some hard choices about whether it’s worth the money to fix some of the aircraft, which already average over 25 years of age.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.