Longer Fifth Generation Horizon

The Air Force needs to “look hard at its timeline” for acquiring an all-fifth generation fighter fleet, and maybe accept a fourth generation-plus force for a longer period, said retired Gen. Ron Fogleman, former Chief of Staff, Wednesday. “We shouldn’t give up on being a fifth generation Air Force. I think we just need to change the horizon,” he said in an address sponsored by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Arlington, Va. Fogleman said he’s worried that the Air Force has essentially placed “all its eggs in one basket” by embracing the F-35 strike fighter “so completely.” He said: “I have no doubt that someday the F-35 will be a marvelous airplane.” But “I don’t think our Air Force can wait” until then. He said he doesn’t think the Air Force will ever buy the F-35 in the numbers it has planned (the program of record is for 1,763). “That’s the first thing that nobody will admit, but it’s kind of a universal truth,” he said. “As soon as” F-35 unit reductions come, the aircraft’s “price is going to start going crazy,” asserted Fogleman. By the time it becomes obvious in about eight to 10 years that the F-35 plan won’t play out, “it will be too late,” and the production lines for “several pretty good legacy fighters”—the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18E/F—will be shuttered, he said. “They’ll go dead about the time that we wake up,” he said, noting that he’d “like to set an alarm that says we ought to wake up a little earlier.” The Super Hornet should be in the potential mix even though “heaven forbid, the Air Force would ever buy a Navy airplane,” said Fogleman.