Top US Air Force general suggests future fighter-jet fleet won’t include the F-22 Raptor

F-22 f 22 flares
F-22 deploys flares

  • The Air Force’s top general is thinking about a future fighter fleet that does not include the F-22.
  • Brown said recently that a future fleet could include the A-10, F-16, F-35, F-15EX, and the NGAD.
  • The F-22 was the first fifth-generation stealth fighter.
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The US Air Force is thinking about what its future fighter fleet might look like, and that picture apparently doesn’t include the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown said at a McAleese and Associates conference Wednesday that the service is trying to find the right mix of aircraft for the future fleet through an internal tactical air study, according to multiple reports.

“Right now we have seven fighter fleets,” Brown said, according to Defense One. “My intent is to get down to about four … really a four plus one,” with the A-10, a ground-attack aircraft rather than a pure fighter, as the plus-one.

The general said that the mix could include the A-10 and F-16 “for a while,” the F-35, which “will be the cornerstone” for the fleet, the F-15EX, and then the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter.

As Military.com notes, absent from Brown’s list were the F-22 and F-15E Strike Eagle.

An Air Force spokesperson told Air Force Magazine that the “F-22 is still undergoing modernization” and that “there are no plans to retire it in the near-term.”

The Air Force official explained that Brown is thinking more about the long-term. The F-22 will “eventually” retire, the spokesperson said, explaining that the platform’s likely successor will be the NGAD fighter, which Brown reportedly called “the air-superiority fighter of the future.”

The F-15EX, which is replacing the ageing fleet of F-15C/D fighters, could potentially replace the F-15E as well, the Air Force previously suggested.

Although the A-10 and the F-16 made the chief of staff’s list, the A-10 is not expected to serve beyond the 2030s, according to Air Force Magazine, and the Air Force, Brown said, is already thinking about the F-16 replacement, which could be “additional F-35, or something else into the future.”

“I don’t need to make that decision today,” Brown said. “That’s probably six, seven, eight years away into the future.”

Talking about the Air Force’s internal tactical air study, Brown stated the service will “look across the board, [at] all of our combat aircraft, our attack, our fighter portfolio,” adding that the Air Force is really looking “for a window of options, because the facts and assumptions based on a threat will change over time.”

The F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, fifth-generation stealth air-dominance and multi-role fighter that first flew in 1997 and entered service in 2005.

The fighter did not fly a combat mission though until 2014, two years after the Air Force received its last F-22 fighters. The program was capped at 187 jets, and 186 are currently in service.

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Here’s how the A-10 Warthog’s legendary Avenger Gatling gun really works

GAU 8 vw a-10 gun
The GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling gun next to a VW Type 1.

  • Wanna know what’s behind the trademark BRTTTTT noise of the A-10 Warthog’s GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling Gun?
  • The video below, produced by the 3D Mil-Tech YouTube channel, shows in extensive detail how the Avenger works.
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Dubbed Warthog, Hog or just Hawg, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is, basically, an airplane built around the GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon.

The Avenger cannon is the Hog primary weapon and is able to fire 3,900 bullets per minute.

“It’s a highly-accurate point-and-shoot weapon that grants our pilots superior firepower and flexibility in a close-combat ground fight,” a Warthog pilot once told us. The GAU-8 is rated at “5 mil, 80%,” meaning that 80% of rounds will hit within a 5-mil circle, with mils being milliradiants (at 1,000 feet five mils would be 5 m hence 80% of rounds would hit within a 5-m circle and that’s at 70 rounds a second).

A 10 Warthog
A US Air Force maintainer adjusts equipment on an A-10 Warthog at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, April 17, 2002.

Everything in the A-10 is designed to “make room” to the gun, including the nose landing gear, offset to the right of the aircraft so that the firing barrel lines up along the center of the airframe.

More in detail, as the gun’s recoil forces could push the entire plane off target during strafes, the gun itself is mounted laterally off-center, slightly to the port side of the fuselage centerline, with the actively “firing” barrel in the nine o’clock position (when viewed from the front of the aircraft), so that the firing barrel lies directly on the aircraft’s centerline.

The firing barrel also lies just below the aircraft’s center of gravity, being bore-sighted along a line 2 degrees below the aircraft’s line of flight. This arrangement accurately centers the recoil forces, preventing changes in aircraft pitch or yaw when fired.

Each of its seven barrels has an internal riffling groove which passes through the whole length of the barrel so that a spin on each round can be induced.

The 1,150 30-mm rounds of bullets stored in the drum weigh about 4,000 pounds: this means that the weight of the rounds and their shells has to be taken in consideration to position of the center of gravity of the aircraft. Without the rounds, you would actually have to put ballast in the nose on an empty gun to balance the airplane!

a10 damage a 10 gau-8 avenger rotary cannon
An armored vehicle after being hit by an A-10 providing close air support.

Other design features of the Warthog support the operation of the Avenger.

For instance, as explained by Maj. Cody “ShIV” Wilton, the commander of the A-10 Demo Team, in a pretty epic walkaround video we have published last year, the slat on each wing – that are not slats in the traditional airplane sense as they do not generate lift nor help the pilot land any slower it, but they smooth the airflow off the wing in the engine and prevent stalls when the aircraft flies at high AOA (Angle Of Attack) – also helps diverting the gun gas underneath the wing so it doesn’t suffocate the engine (as the gun gas does not have oxygen) when the aircraft uses the gun.

There’s also a wind fence that, when the gun is shooting, diverts the gas down the fuselage.

The stunning video below, produced by the 3D Mil-Tech YouTube channel, shows with unprecedented details, how the GAU-8 Avenger works: It gives an idea of the seven-barrel carriage assembly including the double-ended feed system which allows the spent casings to be returned to the ammunition drum.

What a fine piece of machinery!

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The Air Force now has more F-35s than F-15s and A-10s

F-35 fighter jet elephant walk
F-35As on the runway during a combat-power exercise at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, January 6, 2020.

  • The US Air Force’s F-35 fleet has officially surpassed the F-15 and A-10 fleets in size.
  • The F-35 fleet, currently 283 jets, is second only to the F-16 fleet, which totals 934 jets.
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The US Air Force‘s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet has officially surpassed the number of F-15 Eagle jets and A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, becoming the second largest fighter jet fleet in its aircraft inventory, the service’s top general said Friday.

Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown revealed the new statistic during a hearing about the fiscal 2022 budget before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. As of this week, he said, the F-35 fighter fleet is second in size only to the F-16 Fighting Falcon; the Air Force has 934 F-16 C and D models.

Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton told Military.com the service has 283 F-35s, which also surpasses the A-10 Warthog fleet by two aircraft.

During the hearing, Brown discussed how the Air Force plans to move forward with its “TacAir study,” which will determine the right mix of aircraft for the future, and assess how future fighter concepts will fit into the current mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.

“It won’t necessarily give us an answer, [but] a range of answers to take a look at the threat and make sure we have done the analysis to inform ourselves but also our key stakeholders, which includes this committee,” he said.

F-35 and F-22
Two F-22s, top, and two F-35s.

The F-35 fleet eclipsed the number of F-22 Raptors in 2019 – with 203 at the end of that fiscal year; the Air Force capped its Raptor fleet at 187 in 2009 (it currently has 186).

According to the Air Force Association’s 2020 aircraft almanac, the service has 241 F-15C/D Eagle models and 218 F-15E Strike Eagles.

Brown in February disputed reports calling the F-35 a high-cost Pentagon failure, saying that was “nowhere near the case.” In his prepared testimony before the subcommittee Friday, he said the jet remains “the cornerstone of our future fighter force and air superiority.”

He told reporters February 17 that the Air Force hasn’t ruled out bringing a new fighter jet into its inventory as it looks to replace older, fourth-generation F-16s. This marks a change; since the beginning of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the service had held that older Falcons should be replaced by the fifth-generation Lightning II. Some critics view Brown’s comments as foreshadowing the stealth jet’s demise.

The Air Force is the largest customer for the F-35 and hopes to procure 1,763 F-35 conventional takeoff and landing A-variants.

But according to Aviation Week, future defense budgets could limit the inventory. The magazine reported in December that the service might cap its total F-35 buy at 1,050 fighters.

The Air Force expects to keep a well-rounded mix of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft through the 2030s, officials have said.

Last month, the service added the F-15EX Eagle II to its ranks as its new fourth-plus generation fighter.

– Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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