TechU.S. Air Force faces spare parts crisis, risking hundreds of aircraft

U.S. Air Force faces spare parts crisis, risking hundreds of aircraft

F-16, illustrative photo
F-16, illustrative photo
Images source: © theaviationgeekclub

8:43 PM EDT, March 28, 2024, updated: 7:19 AM EDT, March 29, 2024

The U.S. Air Force is grappling with a critical challenge. Many aircraft, including the F-16C/D Viper and F-15E Strike Eagle fighters, B-52 bombers, and KC-135 tankers, are on the brink of being grounded. This situation stems from an inability to replenish spare parts stocks without an additional $1.5 billion beyond the latest budget proposal.

As explained by The War Zone, the fiscal year 2025 budget proposal did not include spare parts, aiming to conserve funds for high-priority programs such as future aircraft. Nonetheless, this decision comes with considerable risk. Without the needed funds, some aircraft might be grounded, a strategy that raises concerns, especially in the face of potential conflicts.

Potential grounding for part of the U.S. fleet

Defense News has highlighted that a request for an extra $1.5 billion for spare parts was submitted to Congress on March 21 as part of the unfunded priorities list (UPL). Notably, the list doesn’t seek additional aircraft but includes other requests, such as $612 million for nine new deployable units, $1.1 billion for global construction projects, and $266 million for Pacific region exercises. The largest request on the list is for parts, which are broken down as follows:

  • $167 million for B-52H Stratofortress bombers.
  • $564 million for F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters.
  • Almost $61 million for F-15E Strike Eagle fighters.
  • Almost $62 million for the HC-130J Combat King aircraft.
  • $195 million for the RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
  • $7 million for C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft.
  • Almost $450 million for the KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft.

In discussions with The War Zone, a U.S. Air Force spokesperson revealed that up to 514 aircraft could be grounded due to this shortfall in spare parts. However, if the additional funding request is met, the affected aircraft could drop by 43 percent to 221 units. The spokesperson also detailed the repercussions of not securing the additional funds for spare parts on the American aircraft fleet.

Grounding numerous aircraft would overburden the operational units and compromise their readiness. Moreover, the scarcity of parts would necessitate adjustments in operational tempo. Essentially, this reduces the availability of "on-hand" aircraft for immediate deployment. An additional hurdle is the challenge of making grounded aircraft flight-ready again, a process complicated by maintenance schedules and flight certification requirements, as underscored by The War Zone.

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