The U.S. Air Force is running out of fighter jets. And that’s its own damned fault. Even as its squadrons dwindle, the flying branch remains committed to exclusively buying overly-complex, enormously expensive F-35 stealth fighters that it simply cannot afford in the quantities it needs in order to maintain its numerical strength.
That’s because the Air Force wants all of its fighters to be radar-evading stealth fighters, regardless of the cost or impact of this goal on the service’s ability to do its job defending America’s interests in the sky.
The Air Force is, in that sense, a victim of its own technological ambition. And the self-inflicted warplane-shortage couldn’t come at a worse time. While the American air arm slowly withers away, the air forces of China and Russia only grow stronger.
In late 2015, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring the Air Force to maintain at least 1,900 fighter jets.
To lawmakers, the legal minimum makes sense. China and Russia are both buying large numbers of new fighters and, as of late 2015, owned around 1,400 and 1,300 jets, respectively. The Air Force’s own 1,900 jets, combined with the 1,400 fighters the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operate, ensure that the U.S. military’s frontline warplanes outnumber the aircraft of its two biggest rivals.