The U.S. Air Force fiscal 2024 budget request of nearly $4.9 billion for 48 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35As–five more than Congress funded last year–and $2.3 billion ask for 24 Boeing [BA] F-15EXs–14 more than appropriated last year–will aid the Air Force in boosting the number of fighter squadrons able to deter China, a top service official said on Apr. 19.

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcomittee, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) asked Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Allvin whether he agreed with Air Combat Command head Gen. Mark Kelly who said last September that the Air Force needed 60 modernized fighter squadrons, but only has 48 such squadrons. The service also has nine A-10 close air support squadrons, but the Air Force is moving to acclerate the retirement of the A-10 fleet, including 42 A-10s in fiscal 2024.

Scott quoted Kelly as saying the Air Force needs 28 squadrons to project power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, eight squadrons for crisis response, 16 squadrons for homeland defense and eight squadrons for modernization and training.

“I think the point that Gen. Kelly was trying to point out is not only that we can’t just count the numbers, but the missions that those were tasked to do,” Allvin said. “Those nine attack squadrons are not as survivable and are not multi-role, and that’s why we are aggressively in the fiscal 2024 budget asking for 72 front-line fighters, which will enable us to do those missions and compete and succeed in the Indo-Pacific theater.”

The A-10 is logging a lot of hours for an aircraft that the Air Force wants to retire, and Allvin told Scott that A-10s are preparing to deploy again to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Combat aircraft receiving the biggest requested flying hour increases in fiscal 2024 are the F-15E Strike Eagle–13,106 hours, the F-35A–13,064 hours, the F-15EX–4,200 hours, and the A-10–2,507 hours. The Air Force requests 17,353 fewer hours in fiscal 2024 for the F-15C/D fleet, which the service wants to retire.

In fiscal 2024, the Air Force requests more than $8 billion for 1.1 million flying hours (Defense Daily, Apr. 6).

Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, has said that between last July and this February the cost of those 1.1 million hours grew 10 percent, mostly due to spare parts costs.

The fiscal 2024 Air Force budget called out “cost per flying hour elements” as responsible for $516 million in cost growth for the active duty Combat Air Forces (CAF) flying hour program for fighters, bombers, combat search and rescue, and reconnaissance planes.