Burning the Midnight Oil

The Air Force has been scrambling to answer some dreaded “what if” questions this week—as in, what if the F-15 A-D models are grounded permanently? Air Combat Command on Dec. 3 issued an indefinite stand-down order. Lt. Gen. Raymond Johns, who heads USAF plans and programs, said Thursday that the service could increase production of the F-22, but it would take time to spool up the annual rate from the current 20 a year. Long-lead items such as major forgings can take years to make. Johns said the Air Force wouldn’t want to buy more F-15s because, even though they are still in low-rate production for the overseas market, they are not of a configuration the Air Force uses or could easily absorb. Korea’s F-15Ks, for instance, have a completely different radar and processor system. Moreover, the F-15 is a fourth-generation fighter, and USAF has resolved not to buy any more of them because of advances in air defense systems and missiles and the fact that Russia and China are marketing fifth-generation fighters. (Reportedly inspections have found suspicious fuselage cracks in two F-15s assigned to Kadena AB, Japan, making a total of at least six with problems in addition to the one that crashed Nov. 2.)