The US Air Force wants to get rid of some of its most well-known aircraft — here's what's on the chopping block

US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Christina BennettA B-1B Lancer takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, October 24, 2019.
  • The Air Force plans to send some of its oldest and most well-known aircraft to the boneyard in 2021 as part of an effort to free up money for future needs.
  • According to the service’s 2021 budget proposal, some B-1B bombers, A-10 Warthog attack aircraft, and aerial refuelling tankers, among others, are on their way out.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The $US207.2 billion total spending in the Air Force’s 2021 budget request holds even with what the service was allotted in 2020.

The lack of change in dollars contrasts with Air Force officials’ comments about a need for dramatic change to prepare for potential high-end conflict with a power like Russia or China.

“If you have platforms that are not going to play in that 2030 fight, is there a near-term risk, which is real risk, that we need to take as a department to buy our future, to be able to have the connectivity we need to fight at the speeds the future’s going to demand?” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in January.

The 2021 request, released Monday, stopped short of big shakeups, such as ditching entire aircraft inventories or scrapping major procurement programs, according to Defence News.

But the proposed 2021 budget would part with a number of noteworthy aircraft, freeing up $US4.1 billion in the next five-year spending plan and reflecting a belief that “winning in the future will require investing in the right new capabilities now,” an Air Force spokeswoman told Military.com.

Below, you can which aircraft the Air Force wants to retire.


17 B-1B Lancer bombers.

The B-1B bomber fleet would drop from 61 aircraft in 2020 to 44 in 2021, all of which are in the active-duty Air Force, according to budget documents.

The Lancer, which is no longer capable of carrying nuclear weapons, doesn’t have the highest ceiling of the Air Force’s bombers, but it is considered the bomber fleet’s “backbone,” as it can fly the fastest, topping 900 mph, and carries the largest payload, up to 75,000 pounds of guided and unguided weapons.

The service plans to get rid of the oldest of the B-1Bs, which have required more attention from maintainers given the high operational tempo the bomber has faced in recent years.


44 A-10 Thunderbolt ground-attack aircraft.

US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brad TiptonAirmen reconfigure weapons on an A-10 Thunderbolt II at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, November 19, 2019.

The Air Force has flirted with retiring some A-10s for years, and its 2021 proposal would finally cull that fleet, with the Air National Guard losing 39 and the Air Force Reserve losing seven. (The active Air Force would gain two, for a total of 44 A-10s removed from service.)

The Air Force currently has 281 A-10s and recently finished putting new wings on 173 of them. Boeing got a billion-dollar contract in 2019 to finish re-winging the A-10s that needed them.

Once those 44 aircraft are removed from service, the Air Force will proceed with re-winging those that remain, an Air Force spokeswoman told Military.com.


16 KC-10 and 13 KC-135 aerial refuelling tankers.

US National Guard/Master Sgt. Mark A. MooreA KC-135 refuels an F-16

The Air Force’s 2021 budget proposes dropping 16 KC-10 tankers from the active fleet and eight and five KC-135s from the active fleet and the Reserve, respectively.

KC-10s date to the 1980s and KC-135s to the 1950s. The Air Force says the ones that would be removed would be the oldest and least capable in the force, according to Air Force Magazine, but the cuts would come as the tanker meant to replace them, the KC-46, is still at least three years away from being able to deploy.

The 2021 budget includes nearly $US3 billion for 15 more KC-46 tankers, as well as an additional $US130 million for modifications and research, and development, testing, and evaluation.

Air Force officials have said they want to hold on to legacy tankers until the KC-46 is working properly. The head of US Transportation Command, which oversees aerial refuelling operations, said in January that KC-46 delays risked causing “a real dip” in the military’s tanker availability.


24 RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones.

Starting in 2021, the Air Force wants to divest its Block 20 and Block 30 RQ-4 surveillance drones, a total of 24, leaving only its 10 Block 40 RQ-4s.

Four of the Block 20s had been converted to Battlefield Airborne Communications Nodes, which allow different battlefield communications systems to talk to each other.

To replace the RQ-4s with the BACN (which makes them EQ-4s), the service will get five E-11A manned aircraft with the BACN system, buying one a year starting next year, an Air Force spokesperson told Defence News.

The RQ-4 often works in conjuction with other space-based and airborne information-gathering aircraft, like the U-2 spy plane, whose future was also put in doubt by the latest budget documents.


24 C-130H Hercules airlifters.

US Air Force/Master Sgt. Robert TrubiaWyoming Air National Guardsmen prepare a C-130H for a mission out of Cheyenne, February 27, 2019.

The Air Force also wants to retire 24 C-130H mobility aircraft from the Air National Guard.

The C-130H airlifter, as well as the MC-130H used for special operations operations, are among the oldest in the Air Force and “are experiencing airworthiness, maintainability and operational limitations,” according to budget documents.

In the 2021 proposal, the active force would lose three MC-130Hs and gain four MC-130J, the next model, while the Air National Guard would acquire 19 C-130Js

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.