The Air Force Wants to Give the F-22 Raptor an Early Retirement

The future fighter fleet will shrink from seven types to four. See which jets aren't making the cut.

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    The U.S. Air Force plans to consolidate its fighter force from seven current airframes to just four. The effort will include retiring the F-22 Raptor relatively early, but the good news is the Raptor will be replaced by the Air Force’s secret new fighter jet.

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    Today’s Air Force is made up of seven fighter types: the F-22 Raptor, F-15C/D Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15EX Super Eagle, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and A-10 Thunderbolt. It’s a diverse menagerie of aircraft, from high-end air superiority fighters to close air support planes, some of which overlap in purpose.

    Now, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown wants to shrink the number of fighter fleets from seven to just four, according to DefenseOne. Under the plan, the F-15C/D, F-15E, A-10, and F-22 would take one-way flights to the Boneyard. The F-15EX, F-35, and F-16 would all fly on, joined by a new air superiority fighter: Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD).

    Technically, the Air Force would have five aircraft until the late 2030s. The service recently completed an expensive rewinging effort that will allow it to keep up to 173 A-10s flying. But the Air Force has tried to retire the Warthog for 30 years, and may yet again try to do so.

    NGAD, the replacement for the F-22 Raptor, made waves in 2020 when the Air Force shockingly revealed it designed, built, and flew a prototype in just one year. Nobody knows what the mysterious fighter jet looks like, and it may be some time before it enters Air Force service, but it’s a real, flying aircraft.

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    A stable of just four fighters will consolidate the types of aircraft in the piloted aircraft fleet, but Brown didn’t say anything about flying fewer numbers of aircraft. As DefenseOne points out, the Air Force has hinted the F-15EX may not just replace the F-15C/D, but also the F-15E.

    It’s important to consider the four fighters will almost certainly be augmented by large numbers of cheaper drones that could address some critical, but highly dangerous roles, like close air support. Going from four fighters to seven isn’t a step back, but it could help pave the way for the Air Force to do something new.

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