Even if they are primarily just cheap knockoffs, China's rapidly growing fleet of next-gen aircraft are poised to seriously challenge American air superiority in the coming years. To prevent that, argues Chief of US Air Force Air Command Command Gen. Michael Hostage, the US will need plenty of fifth-generation fighters of its own -- no matter the cost.
During a recent interview with the Air Force Times, Gen. Hostage laid out his position for upgrading the current block of F-22 Raptors, a single-seat dog-fighter, even if it comes at the expense of older legacy systems such as the A-10 Warthog and the U-2 Dragon Lady:
If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22. Because I got such a pitifully tiny fleet, I've got to ensure I will have every single one of those F-22s as capable as it possibly can be.
What's more, even were the F-35, which is utilised for air-to-ground attacks and reconnaissance missions, defended by modernized F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons, as US Air Force brass has requested, it wouldn't be enough. "If you gave me all the money I needed to refurbish the F-15 and the F-16 fleets," he continued, "they would still become tactically obsolete by the middle of the next decade. Our adversaries are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet, no matter what I do, by the middle of the next decade."
The only problem, according to the General, is that the F-22s initially shipped "with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid's game console in somebody's home gaming system." These planes now must go through a costly upgrade process just to make them useful. To free up budget space to keep the F-22s updated, Gen. Hostage conceded that the USAF would look into retiring the venerable A-10 Warthog, a workhorse of the current fleet.
The US Air Force unfortunately doesn't seem to have much of a choice in the issue either, not when the other option involves conceding any degree of air superiority, a hallmark of American military strategy, to an adversary that's basing its military might on American hardware. [Air Force Times via The Aviationist]