America’s Graying Air Force


The United States Air Force’s F-15 fighters are the nation’s most sophisticated front-line fighters, playing a critical role protecting the continental U.S. and flying combat missions in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

But on Nov. 2, 2007, a Missouri Air National Guard F-15 C fighter broke apart during a regular training exercise. The crash led to the grounding of America’s entire F-15 fleet. The crash, however, was not isolated. There has been a spate of crashes and groundings over the past couple of years.

Unfortunately, the string of crashes and breakdowns is likely to intensify: America’s Air Force is getting old.

Today’s air force is the oldest in usaf history. The average age of the planes in the fleet is more than 23 years. Many transport and refueling tankers are over 40 years old. By 2013, the average fleet age is expected to rise to 29 years. Contrast those numbers with the air fleet’s average age of only 8.5 years in 1967.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former fighter pilot who now serves as the head of intelligence for the Air Force, says that his son now flies the exact same F-15 he flew back in the late 1970s. Deptula warns that the graying Air Force may be facing a “crisis” (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 6, 2007).

The Air Force’s 688 F-15s were supposed to last until 2025, but after 17 years of almost continuous use in the First Gulf War, Yugoslavia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wear and tear is taking its toll. Much of the rest of America’s aircraft, like the F-15, is also simply getting old and wearing out. The 1,280 F-16s, also after heavy use, are approaching the limits of their life expectancy, and the aged U.S. transport and refueling tankers are earning reputations as flying rust-buckets.

Most people don’t drive vehicles, let alone operate computers, that are 17 years old. Yet that is the average age of the sophisticated equipment expected to protect us.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne says that when you add up the rate at which the fleet is aging, the rising maintenance costs, personnel cutbacks and the prices of new equipment, it means one thing: Air Force America in its current form is “going out of business. It is simply a matter of time” (Airforce Magazine Online, Sept. 21, 2007).

Hosea, talking to ancient Israel, warned that Ephraim’s military and economic might had largely faded, though the tribe was ignorant of it. “[Y]ea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.”

Today, gray hairs are also on America. Her age as a superpower is nearly over—America’s waning air superiority is just one example.