For the US Air Force, it is now F-35 all!

Just 3 years ago, at the instigation of the director of acquisitions at the time, Dr. Will Roper, the US Air Force was embarking on a very daring industrial approach, based on short and limited programs, more competition between manufacturers and shortened life cycles for its flying materials. This model had also seduced the American general staff, which saw in it the means of solving its problems of relative costs concerning the implementation of a fleet of F-35 beyond 1200 units, by relying on less advanced aircraft but with more suitable performance such as the F- 15EX from Boeing, or new aircraft less expensive than the Lokcheed-Martin plane but capable of taking over from the F-16s currently in service, and which would have been developed within the framework of the NGAD program. With the change of administration following the election of Joe Biden, all of these approaches were discarded, sometimes unceremoniously, by the new Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall.

Thus, it was quickly no longer a question of making the NGAD program the technological receptacle for multiple and iterative developments, as proposed by Roper, but of sticking to the traditional approach of the Air Force, i.e. the development of a very complex and very expensive top-of-the-range device, intended to replace, by the beginning of the next decade, the F-22 Raptor. As for a possible replacement for the F-16 taking on the trappings of the 5th generation, but without the maintenance constraints of the F-35, the idea evaporated the very day of the appointment of Kendall to his post by Joe Biden. The latter had indeed announced, during his hearing before the Senate prior to his appointment, that according to him, the F-35 was the solution of choice for the US Air Force, and that the problems of cost of ownership put in before by studies but also by the US Air Force itself, would find their answers by increasing the size of the fleet.

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The replacement of the F-22 must begin at the beginning of the next decade, by the apparatus designed within the framework of the Next Generation Air Dominance program or NGAD

Since then, a hushed tripartite showdown had begun between the US Air Force staff on the one hand, Franck Kendall on the other, and with the American Congress as arbiter. Thus, over the past two years, the Pentagon has called for a drop in orders for the F-35A, but also an increase in orders for the F-15EX, the aircraft being deemed better suited to meet immediate needs, particularly in the Pacific. Thus, in 2023, only 33 F-35A will be ordered, as well as 24 F-15EX, while the fleet renewal rate requires a rate of 76 new aircraft delivered per year, if only to maintain the format of US Air Force hunt for 1800 aircraft. But it seems that in this speckled foil confrontation, politics is gaining the upper hand over operations. Indeed, judging by the latest statements from Franck Kendall, but also from Lt General Moore who recently took over as the Air Force's chief planning officer, like those of Andrew Hunter, Will Roper's replacement, it looks like the future for the Air Force will be to massively increase orders and the F-35A fleet.

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