Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said on Feb. 12 it is more likely that DOD would seek to replace any structurally unsound F-15 A-D models that never return to flight with F-35s rather than F-22s. “I do not believe the F-22s will be replacements for the F-15,” England told the Senate Budget Committee on Feb. 12 when asked about DOD’s near-term plans for dealing with the prolonged grounding of nearly one third of the Eagle fleet since the crash of an F-15C last November. “The F-22 is a much more expensive, higher-end airplane, fifth-generation. So I would expect that, instead, we would try to accelerate the Joint Strike Fighter, which is more the class of the F-15, so that the Air Force would move into Joint Strike Fighter and not into the much more expensive F-22 airplane. So that would be my judgment.” England, who went before the panel to testify on DOD’s Fiscal 2009 budget request, caveated his remarks by saying there is still analysis ahead to determine the ultimate fate of those F-15s. (Note that Rep. C.W. Young (R-Fla.) reminded England that the F-22 and F-35 have different missions. However, England insisted that the “performance” of the two fighters is “extraordinarily close.” Not so.) USAF officials have said some may eventually return to flight if flawed structural support beams called longerons are replaced. But for now, 157 Eagles remain grounded, an Air Combat Command spokesman told the Daily Report yesterday.
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.