Air Force Planes Show Signs of Deterioration


“Geriatric” and “Decrepit” are terms used to describe America’s aging Air Force. An alarming number of planes are nearly a half-century old, have been rendered obsolete, have far surpassed their original service hours, and are continuing to show signs of deterioration.

F-15s were first introduced in 1972 and, at the time, had a service life of about 4,000 hours. Since then, the service life of these planes has doubled, and with scheduled defense cuts looming, there is already talk about extending them further.

Dave Deptula, a retired three-star general, shared his insights and concerns in a recent video produced by The Heritage Foundation.

General Deptula expresses concerns about the average age of the F-15 C & D models approaching 30 years. In 2007, an F-15 broke in half during a training mission in St. Louis, Missouri. Afterward, every F-15 was grounded, and they remained so for months. Aircraft falling apart is costly during peacetime, but it can be fatal during wartime, warns the General. After earning his wings flying an F-15 in 1977, the General’s own son flew the very same F-15 some 30 years later, while stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan.

Earlier this year, the B-52 celebrated its 60th anniversary. Older than the F-15, the B-52 bomber is another relic still operated today. While a state-of-the-art plane in the 1960s, its capability to operate against advanced enemy air defenses has been rendered obsolete. The bomber joins a long list of “geriatric planes, ships, and other military assets.”

A recent report by Fox News named some other fossils on the list. Currently, the U.S. Air Force flies about 400 KC-135s. As the military’s main aerial refueler, the most recent of these planes is nearly a half-century old. Deterioration poses a huge threat to older aircraft. Following the discovery of cracks in their wings, the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolts are currently in the process of being rewinged.

While the Air Force has developed plans to address aging aircraft, these plans are being pushed back due to military cuts and sequestration. According to Fox News, the Air Force has plans to replace the KC-135 refuelers with new KC-46A refuelers, but, “if Congress has its way, some [KC-135s] could still be taking off well into the 2040s,” which would then make these planes almost 80 years old.

The U.S. military is deteriorating while others, like China, are modernizing. Military voices—ranging from the current service chiefs and the Secretary of Defense to the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—have urged political leaders to stop the next round of defense cuts that are scheduled to take effect early next year. But these voices have fallen on deaf ears in the Obama Administration, which has made recapitalizing national security its lowest priority.

Bronson Stocking is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit

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