The nation faces “some tough choices ahead” when it comes to fielding major new weapons systems that are now just in their infancy, like the Air Force’s next bomber and Navy’s future ballistic missile submarine, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates Wednesday. “Is the Air Force, in fact, in 2020 or 2025 going to be able to afford a new tanker, an F-35, and a new penetrating bomber?” he asked during his appearance before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the Pentagon’s spending request for Fiscal 2012. Such issues, “worry me a lot,” said Gates. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) sought Gates’ views on how the committee could best prepare to deal with the US military’s force structure challenges. Gates said these issues are “not facing us right now” and the Pentagon is establishing the foundation in terms of investments to give future Presidents and Congresses choices. “But down the road, when procurement starts, there are going to be some very tough decisions that are going to have to be made,” he explained.
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.