Dedicated F-22 Trainers Now in Question?

Using an Air Force chart as a reference point, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) pointed out to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz that with 183 F-22s, just 126 of them would be combat coded by the end of the production line. “Would you think that’s adequate?” Inhofe asked during the May 21 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Fiscal 2010 Air Force budget request. Schwartz said that the Air Force is looking at managing the future fighter fleet significantly differently than it did larger fleets of legacy fighters such as the F-15 and F-16. “Small fleet dynamics are a significant issue here,” he said, adding the service would have to “look hard” about whether it would even have dedicated F-22 training aircraft in its inventory and potentially using combat-coded aircraft to carry out training activities. While this situation is “not as ideal” as using dedicated training aircraft, it is one of the realities of managing a smaller fleet. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) pointed out that even if the number had stayed at 381, the Air Force would still have about 240 combat-coded aircraft—which is “less than the historical demand for F-15s.” Citing the Air Force’s plan to cut 250 legacy fighters from the current force and “that more retirements are on the way next year—that the Air Force may recommend retiring another 255 fighters”—Chambliss noted that field commanders were OK with the 2010 fighter retirement plan, provided USAF procured more F-22s. However, since it does not plan to do that, he pointed to the elevated risk, “which you readily admit.” He concluded, “I’m having a hard time really justifying your analysis here.”