The F-35 stealth jets are developed by the Maryland-headquartered Lockheed Martin and are a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather multirole fighter that has been designed to perform an array of roles that includes both air superiority and strike missions.
However, the US Air Force may start retiring some of its F-35 stealth jets as part of its efforts to downsize the fighter fleet.
A top Air Force official said the service might retire some of its older F-35s, which are currently used for training, over the next decade. These aircraft would be eventually replaced by newer and more advanced ones.
The first few batches of any new generation aircraft usually lack advanced features. Instead of receiving expensive upgrades to keep them running in case of a future conflict, the Americans are keen to retire these aircraft that would be probably mothballed for spares.
According to Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, the US Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, this could be a very possible happening in near future.
“It’s not in our plans right now, but that would be something that we would have to take into consideration,” he said in an interview on May 25. “Because the big question is, “Are we going to go back and retrofit [them]?”
The top general was referring to the ratio of combat-ready jets to training jets across the service’s seven fighter fleets. This ratio hasn’t been much friendly for the service in the case of new fighter jets.
For example, one-third of the F-22 fleet isn’t combat-ready, and most of these are reserved for training purposes.
According to Military.com, the F-35s are Pentagon’s latest and newest fighter jets, with a high-tech avionics suite, which has earned it a nickname – the ‘flying computer’. However, some of the oldest F-35s do serve as training aircraft for the new pilots.
Now, the UASF has to decide whether it can afford to use these aircraft only for training purposes. Several of its fleets, including the F-35 and F-22, include training aircraft that are older and not configured for a combat role, Hinote explained.
Upgrading them would be expensive and, in some cases, impossible, the report said.
Instead of having more trainer aircraft, the service is considering investing more in high-quality simulators to train the pilots. “We’ve been experimenting with pilot training at all levels, and what we are learning has the potential to shift our whole approach,” Hinote said.
“There may be some that are not upgradeable to the full combat capability and, if that is true, that probably means we need to think about [whether] they are worth flying.”
As of now, the US Air Force is finding it more viable to let go of older airframes, be it the latest F-35s, and then acquire newer and more technologically advanced combat-ready fighter jets to increase its combat capabilities.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, which began in the 1990s, is considered the most expensive program in the world, which would cost the US government more than $1 trillion over the 60-year lifespan of the fighters.
The fighter jet has been plagued with several problems over the years. Yet, military experts are of the view that it is still America’s best jet, having proven its mettle in almost every sphere, be it lethality, versatility, or survivability.