Members of the California Congressional delegation are urging the Air Force to keep the U-2 fleet flying to prevent a gap in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability while the Global Hawk fleet is upgraded. In a June 17 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the group of senators and representatives said the demand for ISR is increasing, and the Air Force’s current plan to retire the U-2 in 2019 will leave combatant commanders without enough ISR aircraft. “We understand that the U-2 fleet has almost 80 percent of its airframe life remaining, making it sustainable well beyond FY2019,” the letter states. “Retirement of the U-2 in the coming years is expected to result in a reduction in high altitude ISR capacity, including the loss of the U-2’s unique intelligence gathering capabilities.” The U-2 fleet is largely flown out of Beale AFB, Calif. The Air Force and Northrop Grumman are supporting a “universal payload adapter” to use U-2 sensors on unmanned Global Hawks.
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.