As Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin conducts a Global Force Posture Review, the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) will run a tactical aircraft (TACAIR) study to inform needed fighter capabilities and numbers for the Air Force fiscal 2023 budget submission, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said on Feb. 17.

“One of the areas I am looking, we’re pushing through is a TACAIR study for the United States Air Force to look at what is the right force mix,” Brown told the Defense Writers Group. “There is a need for fifth-gen capabilty. There’s a need for NGAD [Next Generation Air Dominance] and that particular capability to remain competitive against our adversaries, and then there’s a mix for a low-end fight. I don’t know it would actually be F-16. I’d want to be able to build something new and different that’s not the F-16, that has some of those capabilities but gets there faster, uses a digital approach.”

Brown said that such an F-16 replacement could be a clean sheet design.

Open mission systems is one desired attribute for an F-16 replacement, as it will likely be for all future Air Force fighters. The service faces budget challenges for a number of platforms, including its fighters, and how many legacy Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16s and Boeing [BA] F-15Cs and Ds it can afford to sustain, while moving out on NGAD, the Boeing F-15EX, and reducing the cost per flying hour of the Lockheed Martin F-35A. It appears likely that the service will end up proposing to buy fewer than the 1,763 F-35As it had planned, especially if the cost per flying hour and sustainment costs do not come down significantly.

Brown said on Feb. 17 that the average age of the Air Force fighter fleet is 28 years.

“That’s not going to compete well against our adversaries,” he said. “This is why we need to modernize. This is why this force mix study is going to be important, to bring down the average age and have something that’s relevant, not just today, but well into the future.”