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

    The Air Force Chief of Staff has a stern warning for his service: learn to go faster to counter China or face disaster.

    General 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 does this. Brown also lamented the slow pace of aircraft development over the past 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 US air superiority by 2035.

    Brown, according to Aviation 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, the Air Force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAAF) has introduced five new fighters: the J-10 “Vigorous Dragon” multirole fighter, the J-fighter -16, the J-20 “Mighty Dragon” stealth fighter, the J -31 “Gyrfalcon”, and the Russian-made Su-35 “Flanker-E”.

    The Chinese fighter Chengdu J-10 is less than ten years old but nearly 500 are already in service in the PLAAF.

    Xinhua News AgencyGetty Images

    The US Air Force, by comparison, only introduced two jets during the same period: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-15EX Super Eagle.

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

    gyrfalcon fighter
    A first version of the J-31 “Gyrfalcon” fighter, 2015.

    WANG ZHAOGetty Images

    The US Air Force is, says Brown, the oldest and smallest it has ever been. Aviation Magazine Almanac 2021 States the average age of an Air Force fighter is 27.37, the average age of a bomber is 39.19, and the average age of transport aircraft is 25.87. The average age of Chinese planes is unknown, but probably around half of it.

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    Brown wants to retire older planes that perform less and cost more to maintain. “I would rather have a smaller force than a bigger, hollow force,” he told reporters. Brown’s plan would likely involve dropping the A-10 Warthogs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15C Eagles, and possibly the F-22 Raptor itself, while accelerating the development of the next-gen Air Dominance fighter and of the non-stealth fighter MR-X. Brown would also likely buy more F-15EX Super Eagles, the only tactical aircraft currently in flight capable of carrying hypersonic weapons, and might even buy new updated F-16s.

    Learn more about Air Force Magazine.


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