The current US Air Force fleet, whose planes are more than 26 years old on average, is the oldest in USAF history. It won’t keep that title for very long. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling tankers are more than 40 years old – and under current plans, some may be as many as 70-80 years old before they retire. Since the price for next-generation planes has risen faster than inflation, average aircraft age will climb even if the US military gets every plane it asks for in its future plans. Nor is the USA the only country facing this problem.
As this dynamic plays out and average age continues to rise, addressing the issues related to aging aircraft becomes more and more important in order to maintain acceptable force numbers, readiness levels, and aircraft maintainability; avoid squeezing out recapitalization budgets; handle personnel turnover that becomes more and more damaging; and keep maintenance costs in line, despite new technical problems that will present unforeseen difficulties. Like F-15 fighters that are under flight restrictions due to structural fatigue concerns – or grounded entirely.
The biggest contracts aren’t always the ones deserving of the most attention. Enter the USA’s Joint Council on Aging Aircraft (JCAA), and initiatives like the Navy’s ASLS. Enter, too, DID’s Spotlight article. It seeks to place the situation and its effects in perspective, via background, contracts, and a research trove of articles that tap the expertise and observations of outside parties and senior sources within the US military.