While Congress last year allowed the U.S. Air Force to retire 68 Boeing [BA] F-15E Strike Eagles through fiscal 2029, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is saying “no” this year in its version of the fiscal 2025 defense authorization bill until the committee gets a clearer picture of future Air Force fighter needs through a federally funded research and development center “future fighter aircraft capabilities and requirements study.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin or his successor would have to submit the report by the end of next year.

The study would estimate the number of F-15s, manned Next Generation Air Dominance, and Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16s and F-35s “needed by the Air Force to meet the requirements of geographical combatant commanders,” HASC said.

The Air Force could retire some F-15Es, however, that the secretary of the Air Force determines to be “non-mission capable, uneconomical to repair because of aircraft accidents, mishaps, or excessive material degradation and non-airworthiness status of certain aircraft,” the committee said.

HASC also proposes a reduction in the authorized U.S. Air Force ceiling for combat coded fighters from 1,145 to 1,106–the 39 being a reduction in the A-10 close air support aircraft inventory from 135 to 96.

In addition to divesting the service’s aged F-15Cs and Ds, the Air Force has been planning to reduce its F-15E fleet from 217 to 99 in the coming years, as the service fields new Boeing F-15EXs (Defense Daily, Apr. 26, 2023).

In fiscal 2025, DoD requests 68 F-35s–15 less than in last year’s request. Of that 68, 42 are Air Force F-35As, 13 are Marine Corps F-35Bs, and 13 are Navy F-35C carrier variants.

HASC, however, only would allow the buy of 48 F-35s in fiscal 2025–30 F-35As, nine F-35Bs, and nine F-35Cs–until Austin  “submits to the congressional defense committees certain corrective action plans and acquisition strategies that will improve research, development, testing, evaluation, and production issues and deficiencies identified across multiple
areas within the F-35 program enterprise.”

Such action plans include buying and building “a new
F–35 mission software integration laboratory to enable concurrent testing” of Technology Refresh–2 (TR-2) and TR–3 mission system hardware, software, and any existing or new
2 F–35 capabilities”; milestones “to resolve all deficiencies and recommendations identified in the 2024 F–35 Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation report” by the Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation; and milestones “to minimize F–35 new aircraft production interruptions” and “to resolve all programmatic deficiencies with F–35 APG-85 radar hardware and software related to the development, testing, acceptance, certification, production, and fielding of the radar as identified by
the director of the F–35 Joint Program Office.

Northrop Grumman [NOC] is developing the APG-85 active electronically scanned array radar to replace the F-35’s APG-81, also by Northrop Grumman.

On weapons, HASC wants an assessment from the Air Force, Navy, and some geographical combatant commands on air-to-air missile requirements.

The committee wants the Air Force “to conduct a cost-benefit and technical risk assessment of developing and procuring an extended range AIM–120D missile to augment the existing air-to-air missile inventory.”

RTX [RTX] builds the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile series.