Gates Reaffirms US Tacair Edge

Speaking to airmen at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, on June 1, Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended his proposed cuts in the Air Force’s fighter fleet in Fiscal 2010 as part of overall changes to the US tactical air arm. He said under his plan—to cap F-22 production at 187, shed more than 250 legacy fighters, and rely on the F-35 production line henceforth as the sole active source of advanced stealth fighters—the US will still be left with a “numerical and technological edge” that will remain “extremely strong and far superior to that of any potential competitor for at least the next 15 to 20 years.” In fact, Gates said the US will have “roughly 1,200” fifth-generation combat aircraft in 2020, while “the Chinese will have zero.” And in 2025, the Chinese will have “a few hundred,” while the US will have “1,700 … plus another 1,000 fourth-generation aircraft,” he told the airmen during the town hall meeting he held during his stopover at the base on the final leg of his week-long trip to the Asia-Pacific region. While the Air Force leadership says it supports Gates’ moves, his plan has been decried by some lawmakers and sharply criticized by outside experts. (Includes AFPS report by Fred Baker III and Elmendorf report by Amn. Jack Sanders)