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ACC Gen. Mike Hostage Says Recapitalization Is Best of Bad Options

Older aircraft fleets will have to be sacrificed

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Gen. Mike Hostage, the Air Force’s Commander of Air Combat Command, was consistently blunt during remarks at the Air Force Association Conference in Washington, D.C., in September.

“If anybody here managed their personal budget the way we’re managing the nation’s budget, they’d probably wind up either in jail or out on the street,” he said.

Recapitalization, he asserts, is the only option. “I realize that means accepting risk in the near term. But the alternative is arriving in the middle of the next decade with a now 45-year-old fighter force and, most likely, no remaining domestic fighter production capability.”

Continuing budget uncertainties are forcing him to make the best of less than optimal choices, with major consequences for the Air Force’s ability to assure the strategic and tactical freedom of maneuver that the nation’s politicians and joint forces expect. The most fundamental of these choices pits today’s security against tomorrow’s.

F-22 and F-35 recapitalization

An F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and an F-22A Raptor from the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., fly over the Emerald Coast Sept. 19, 2012. This was the first time the two fifth-generation fighters had flown together for the Air Force. Hostage said the Air Force must procure sufficient numbers of the fifth-generation F-35 and not end up with another miniscule fleet of aircraft like the 186 F-22s. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock

The Air Force’s fighter fleet is old and worn out. Period. Preserving its capabilities would require both modernization of the existing fleet of fourth-generation fighters and recapitalization with a new, full fleet of 1,763 fifth-generation F-35s. But with Washington’s endless budget battle unabated, there simply isn’t money to do both.

“Our current fiscal environment will force me to make the hard decision between recapitalization and modernization,” Hostage acknowledged.

Recapitalization, he asserts, is the only option. “I realize that means accepting risk in the near term. But the alternative is arriving in the middle of the next decade with a now 45-year-old fighter force and, most likely, no remaining domestic fighter production capability.”

4th gen vs. 5th gen recapitalization

A 33rd Fighter Wing F-16 Fighting Falcon escorts an F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter Aug. 31, 2011, en route to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh says that modernizing fourth-generation fighters like the F-16 and F-15 instead of recapitalization with the F-35 is a false economy. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago

The risk stems from a fleet that no longer enjoys an assured technological edge and whose readiness has been decimated by recent funding gaps. Remarking on the latter, ACC’s commander admitted, “I’m in an abysmal state at the moment in terms of combat readiness, as a result of three months and one week of sequester.”

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...