Foreign fifth-generation fighters are a lot closer to being operational than has previously been disclosed, based on comments made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates April 7. His statements appear to contradict his own assertions on the previous day about US dominance in airpower that justified his decision to cap F-22 production at 187 aircraft. In a press roundtable discussion April 7, Gates said the intelligence he’s seen indicates that a Russian fifth-generation fighter will reach initial operational capability “about 2016.” China will field its fifth-gen fighter “about 2020,” he added. Assuming that Russia wants to take a few years to test the design and get production ramped up, that means we’ll see the Russian answer to the F-22 … any day now. Gates’ remarks seem to corroborate comments by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov in January that the first flight of the fifth-gen Sukhoi fighter would take place this year. (See, for example, UPI’s Jan. 26 report.) Western analysts had shrugged off Ivanov’s statement because Russia has made similar claims for 15 years. As for China, the Pentagon’s 2009 annual report on Chinese military power was silent on when the Sino-equivalent of the F-22—dubbed the J-12—will arrive, but previous estimates had broadly forecast it for the mid-2020s, depending on the degree of cooperation with Russia. (April 7 transcript)
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.