Military Capabilities

Retired US Air Force pilots criticise potential fourth-generation aircraft buy

07 March 2019

A pair of retired USAF pilots criticised a possible fourth-generation aircraft buy as part of the service's fiscal year 2020 budget request. Pictured is a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle. Source: USAF

Key Points

  • A pair of retired USAF pilots criticised the service’s potential four-generation aircraft purchase as not conforming with the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy
  • They said these aircraft would only be effective for the next 10 years

A pair of retired US Air Force (USAF) pilots on 6 March criticised the service’s potential buy of fourth-generation aircraft, saying it does not conform with the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy (NDS).

JV Venable, senior research fellow for defence policy at the Heritage Foundation, said that any fourth-generation platform such as a variant of the Boeing F-15 Eagle would be in service for 30–35 years, but it would only be effective for the next decade. The NDS has called for the US to move from combat in lightly-contested environments such as Afghanistan or Syria to preparing for potential conflict against peers such as China or Russia.

Venable said, in addition, a fourth-generation aircraft buy would be two generations behind cutting-edge fighter aircraft being piloted by adversaries for the next 20–30 years.

“This is where the F-15X, I think, falls short,” Venable said at an Air Force Association (AFA) Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event. “It’s not just the F-15X, it’s any fourth-generation platform right now.”

The USAF fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020) budget, set to be released on 12 March, will likely request new fourth-generation fighter aircraft to help the service reduce the average age of its fleet. The service believes this would also help with sustainability management.

USAF Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said on 28 February that he would prefer to buy additional Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs). Service Secretary Heather Wilson said on 28 February that higher-ranking Pentagon leadership pushed the USAF to buy fourth-generation aircraft.

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