How to size a fighter fleet

f22s_elmenmdorfCrew chiefs from the 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, prepare to launch an F-22 Raptor Sept. 19. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Garrett Hothan)

A look inside how USAF determines its F-22 Raptor fleet size, courtesy of Adam J. Hebert, Executive Editor, Air Force Magazine.

  • Combat-coded: 24 aircraft per squadron, multiplied by 10—the number of rotational Air Expeditionary Forces (240)
  • Training: 25% of the combat-coded number (60)
  • Testing: 5% of the combat-coded and training aircraft (15)
  • Backup inventory: 10% of combat-coded, training and test (32)
  • Attrition reserve: 10% of all categories above (34)

According to USAF’s formulas, this produces the ideal number of Raptors—381—a figure which the Air Force has repeatedly voiced since 2002.  Deputy SecDef Gordon England (and several of his predecessors) have routinely shot down AF requests to revisit this figure and have limited the force to the currently-authorised buy of 183 aircraft.

The Air Force subsequently revisited its F-22 squadron size and AEF force structure in order to adapt to the reduced buy.  Raptor squadrons will house only 18 aircraft instead of the recommended 24, in an attempt to squeeze out 7 squadrons.  At currently-programmed asset levels, AEFs will be stuck deploying with one-half of a normal, full squadron (12 aircraft), instead of the current 1.5 squadrons (36 aircraft) of F-15s.

Here’s how the 381-versus-183 figures break down at an operational level:

CATEGORIES USAF DoD
Total F-22s 381 183 -198
Training 60 29 -31
Test 15 7 -8
Backup 32 15 -17
Attrition 35 17 -18
Combat-coded 240 115 -125
Full Squadrons
Total 10.0 5.0 -5.0
Per AEF 1.0 0.5 -0.5

But remember, these are more capable aircraft than the fourth-generation fighters they are replacing.  As long as you don’t need a few AEFs in geographically disparate places all at the same time, what could possibly go wrong?  It’s not like anyone else is thinking about developing their own fifth-generation aircraft, like the Indian MCA, Korean KFX, Chinese J-X, or Russian PAK FA.

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