March 14, 2004
The Boneyard Shuffle. One of the U.S. Air Force's new tricks for saving money is by mothballing and decommissioning a number of active duty airplanes to free up money for upgrades and maintenance on the rest of the fleet. But this gambit is again threatened by Congress. The Air Force has recently proposed removing 10 F-117s from service and a yet-to-be determined number of A-10 aircraft, in order to fund upgrades for both aircraft. It is thought that about a hundred A-10s might be retired, coming mostly from reserve units.
In 2002, a plan to downsize the 93 plane B-1 fleet by 33 aircraft was started, with the remaining aircraft consolidated at Dyess AFB, Texas and Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. A partial accounting to date indicates 12 aircraft were put into storage at the "Boneyard" in Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona with another eight aircraft sent to bases around the country for static display. Money saved went towards upgrading the rest of the bomber fleet (to handle now types of smart bombs and install new computers.) Another seven aircraft at Dyess are scheduled to be taken out of the active fleet this fiscal year. Some in Congress, among them Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas (Dyass AFB is in Rep. Stenholm district) want to keep more B-1s on active duty above the Air Force's target of 60 planes.
New Mexico's Congressional delegation has already lined up to keep the F-117 fleet at its current strength of 51 aircraft; the Air Force says they just don't deploy as many of the planes as they used to. Six aircraft would be retired and four mothballed to save $75 million over five years. Fighting over A-10/OA-10 fleet numbers, currently at 362 aircraft, has yet to break out, but is likely to be quite lively, especially if planners decide to shut down entire base deployments and/or Air National Guard units. Doug Mohney