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A coming wave of fighter jet decommissionings and the lack of a firm plan to replace them has the Air National Guard on a steady path to a decade of mission cutbacks and deep reductions in the ranks of pilots and maintainers.
The decommissionings most widely and immediately affect the Guard’s fleet of F-16s, which comprise 495 of the component’s 746 fighter craft. Starting in 2011, F-16s pushing 30 years on the job start heading to the boneyard, a process that would eliminate the entire fleet by 2026, absent replacements.
Beyond a vague outline, there are no set plans to replace the aircraft, which generally is done as the active force picks up new aircraft and cycles its old fighters to the Guard. But currently, schedules to replace aircraft in the active force fall far short of keeping the Air Guard’s fleet at necessary levels.
“The [active] Air Force has their problems, but it’s more pronounced in the Air National Guard. We see the potential in some gaps in our fighters,” said Lt. Col. Don Bevis, a Guard Bureau liaison to Congress.
The gap is so pronounced that of the Air Guard’s 30 fighter units, more than half could be fighterless by 2022.