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Air Force Head Says It Needs to Move Faster to Counter China

  • Air Force Chief of Staff CQ Brown told an audience his service needs to “accelerate change” to face China.
  • Brown said that failure to keep pace with China’s rapid military buildup and modernization could be “catastrophic.”
  • The Chief of Staff pointed to the slow pace of aircraft development as one example where the service needs to go faster.

    The Air Force Chief of Staff has a stark warning for his service: learn to move faster to counter China or face catastrophe.

    Gen CQ Brown said the Air Force needs the “right mix” of capabilities to deter Beijing, and he even went so far as to say it should emulate China in how it gets there. Brown also lamented the slow pace of aircraft development in the last 35 years, with only four new fighter jets developed since he joined the service 37 years ago.

    Brown, speaking at a National Press Club event, said China could overcome U.S. air superiority by 2035.

    Brown, according to Air Force magazine, said when he first joined the Air Force the United States was developing a new fighter jet every 2.5 years. In the last ten years alone, China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) introduced five new fighters: the J-10 “Vigorous Dragon” multi-role fighter, J-16 fighter, J-20 “Mighty Dragon” stealth fighter, J-31 “Gyrfalcon”, and the Russian-made Su-35 “Flanker-E.”

    China’s Chengdu J-10 fighter is less than ten years old but nearly 500 are already in service with the PLAAF.

    Xinhua News AgencyGetty Images

    The U.S. Air Force, by comparison, has introduced just two jets during the same time period—the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-15EX Super Eagle.

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    Brown said that inspiration for change could come from an unlikely place: China itself. He noted how the PLAAF underwent a complete reorganization in the 2010s, cutting manpower and retiring older, obsolete planes while introducing newer ones. The PLAAF so ruthlessly cut older planes—including fighters dating to the 1970s—that even though it aggressively added new planes it still grew smaller before it started growing again.

    gyrfalcon fighter

    An early version of the J-31 “Gyrfalcon” fighter, 2015.

    WANG ZHAOGetty Images

    The U.S. Air Force is, Brown says, the oldest and smallest it’s ever been. Air Force magazine’s 2021 Almanac states the average age of an Air Force fighter is 27.37 years, the average age of a bomber is 39.19 years, and the average age of transport aircraft is 25.87 years. The average age of Chinese aircraft is unknown but likely somewhere around half of that.

    You love badass military planes. So do we. Let’s nerd out over it together.

    Brown wants to retire older planes that are less capable and cost more to maintain. “I’d rather have a smaller capable force than a larger, hollow force,” he told reporters. Brown’s plan would probably involve jettisoning older A-10 Warthogs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15C Eagles, and eventually the F-22 Raptor itself, while at the same time accelerating development of the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter and the non-stealthy MR-X fighter. Brown would also likely buy more F-15EX Super Eagles, the only currently flying tactical aircraft capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, and might even buy new, updated F-16s.

    Read more at Air Force Magazine.


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