War Taxes Aging Air Force

Some key workhorses average 45 years old and an equipment update to cost billions.

"Most of us don't have 40-year-old cars, but if you do, I would imagine you drive them on Sunday afternoon when the sun is out. I've got a lot of 40-year-old cars, and I'm taking them to Indianapolis every day and it's on the backs of my great maintainers and our [repair] depots that we're able to do that," he said.

In some cases, replacement is not an option because aging planes such as the A-10 no longer are made.

Because so many of its fighters, cargo planes, aerial tankers and helicopters are old, the Air Force argues it is smarter to buy next-generation aircraft than to restart assembly lines to make obsolete replacements. The trade-off is that the Air Force gets fewer but more capable aircraft, each with a hefty price tag.

Selva said the Air Force cannot reset its inventory by replacing destroyed or worn-out aircraft with more of the same.

"Reset implies you go back to the status quo," the general said. "For the Air Force, that would be taking a step back."

Aging air fleet


The most modern bomber in the U.S. Air Force is noted for its speed, range and abilty to penetrate defenses undetected.

Cost: $1.157 billion (1998 dollars)

Average age: 12 years


The backbone of the American long-range bomber force carries precision and nonprecision weapons.

Average age: 19 years


The attack plane is designed specifically to support ground forces with weapons deployable from low altitude.

Average age: 25 years


The backbone of the U.S. force for more than 40 years is also used as a transport aircraft, for maritime surveillance and other missions.

Average age: 45 years


The aerial tanker is used to refuel Army, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft and also is used as a transport aircraft.

Average age: 45 years

--SOURCES: U.S. Air Force, Media General News Service

* James W. Crawley is national correspondent for Media General News Service.

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