Why Is America’s Navy Shrinking at a Time When It is Needed Most?

David Axe

Security, Americas


There’s trouble afoot.

Key point: The U.S. is retiring planes faster than it can build new ones.

The U.S. Air Force is considering retiring older warplanes in order to save money for new technologies. The idea is that the flying branch eventually would buy new planes including the tech, ultimately restoring the near-term cuts.

But there’s a flaw in that plan, the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute warned in a December 2019 study entitled “Moving Toward the Air Force We Need? Assessing Air Force Budget Trends.”

Cutting force structure in the hope of funding research-and-development and eventually buying back the force structure “has not worked out” in the past, Mark Gunzinger, an analyst with the Virginia-based institute, explained at an event marking his study’s release.

Air Force Magazine, another wing of the AFA, summarized Gunzinger’s comments. “Each attempt [to save money by cutting forces] has left the Air Force with less hardware and people than needed to do the job,” editor John Tirpak wrote.

Taking that same approach in 2019 would “repeat the pattern we’ve seen for the last 25 years,” Gunzinger said. “Retirements of current USAF force structure are not going to yield the kind of savings … needed to build the future force.”

The Air Force wants to find $30 billion in its five-year budget to help develop and buy new planes and technology including stealth bombers and fighters, new command-and-control software and new drones.

To figure out what it can cut, Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein said the flying branch “took a look at every legacy program we have and asked the question: does this contribute significantly to the 2030-to-2038 timeframe?”

“If the answer to that was no, we looked at can we accelerate its retirement in order to free the money up to buy the digital architecture,” Goldfein added.

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