With the U.S. Air Force considering the retirement of the Boeing F-15C Eagle, Lockheed Martin’s stealthy fifth-generation F-22 Raptor will be the only air superiority fighter in the service’s inventory.
While there is no doubt that the Raptor is far and away the best air superiority fighter ever built, the U.S. Air Force only has about 186 surviving Raptors in its inventory. Of those 186 remaining Raptors, only 123 are “combat-coded” aircraft with another twenty that are classified as backup aircraft inventory machines. The rest are test and training assets. Even then, some of those aircraft are undergoing long-term repairs after suffering from accidents—such as one Alaska-based aircraft that made a belly-landing in Florida in April —and are not flying.
In total, there are only six front line F-22 squadrons—rather than the required 10—all of which have fewer aircraft than a normal fighter unit. Five of those squadrons have 21 primary authorized aircraft and two backup inventory jets while one operational Hawaii Air National Guard unit has 18 primary authorized aircraft and two backup jets. Test and training units are also shortchanged—with the Weapons School and the elite 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron being forced to share roughly a dozen jets at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
This leaves the Air Force and our nation desperately short of fighter capacity and is a matter that the Air Force, the Trump administration and Congress will very soon need to address.