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Study: Air Force Short of Aircraft for Future Operations

Washington Report

The Air Force does not have enough aircraft for future operations, whether they take on long or short Cold War-like regional conflicts with Russia or China, peacekeeping missions or counterterrorism/counterinsurgency efforts.

The study was released Monday by the RAND Corporation, a government-funded think tank that provides research to the U.S. military. The 89-page report is titled “Is the USAF Flying Force Large Enough?” and concludes the answer is no.

Looking at past operations to predict the future, researchers examined the ability of the Air Force to respond to the four scenarios described above and found, “In each of the four possible futures examined, the 2017 USAF force was unable to meet the demands for all types of aircraft. For example, in the two cold war futures, the USAF can meet the projected demand for fighter aircraft but not for bomber or airlift aircraft.”

The study recommends that the Defense Department and Air Force supplement “planning processes with historically based simulations of alternative futures.” It also says the Pentagon and service should “develop metrics that more clearly illustrate the force structure consequences of prolonged operations.”

The best scenario for the Air Force is a cold war that does not last more than one year. In that case, the service can meet 84 to 100 percent of the demand for most of its classes of aircraft, falling short in airlift and bombers. 

The study authors said the “most surprising result” was that peace-enforcement operations put the highest amount of stress on Air Force capacity. That’s because such operations in the past have included lengthy enforcement of no-fly zones, like those in the Balkans and the Middle East.