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Mind the Gap


Aug. 12, 2010—The Air Force is expected to fall below its requirement for 2,000 tactical aircraft starting in 2012 and remain up to 200 or more tails below that level through at least 2030, according to the Government Accountability Office.

This projected shortfall will exist even though the Air Force has lowered its Tacair requirements from 2,250 airframes down to 2,000 within the past year or so, states GAO in its new Tacair report to Congress, dated July.

Even the higher projected number of F-35A aircraft—80, up from 48—that the Air Force expects to acquire annually once the F-35 is produced at peak rates, will not erase this gap, states GAO.

Currently the Air Force's manned Tacair fleet comprises A-10s, F-15C/Ds, F-15Es, F-16s, and F-22As. The F-35A, the Air Force's version of the new fifth generation fighter, will begin entering the inventory in production form within the next year.

Based on current projections, the Air Force expects to retire all of its F-15C/Ds and the vast majority of its F-15Es and F-16s by 2030, with the F-35 fleet growing to well over 1,000 tails over that span, states GAO.

The Air Force’s shortfall is expected to exceed 200 aircraft in the 2025 timeframe and continue to stay at about that level through 2030, according to the report.

"The assessed shortfall is likely to continue beyond 2030, absent other developments, because at that time, [F-35] production will have already reached its predicted peak rate, and no other new tactical aircraft procurements are yet planned," reads the report.

The Air Force is exploring options, such as a possible service-life extension of as many as 300 F-16s, to close the projected gap, notes GAO.