London Air Combat Command has not ruled out bringing some retired F-117 Nighthawks out of flyable storage to serve as “Red Air” targets or adversaries for fifth generation F-22s and F-35s, ACC chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle told reporters at the Defence IQ International Fighter conference here. “I can’t really go into specifics,” Carlisle said, “but it makes sense if you think about it being out there.” The F-117s are “the only other stealth” platform available for the job, he said, noting that flying F-22s or F-35s against each other is “counter-productive.” In other symposia, Carlisle and other USAF leaders have said such engagements would provide poor training and waste precious flying hours for the two jets, which are in short supply. In his younger days, Carlisle said Wednesday, “You’d go out and fly F-15s against F-15s,” but the “Red Air” pilots would restrain themselves from using their full capabilities and use enemy tactics. “Today, doing that in the F-22 is not only zero training, it’s a little bit negative training” because the engagement would be a quick and almost effortless victory for the F-22. At an AFA Mitchell Institute program in June, then-Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian (now a lieutenant general) said that if F-22 pilots don’t emerge from a practice battle “sweating,” having taken on maybe more fighters than they could deal with, the engagement offered no value.
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.