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  • VIDEO: Military's Aging Aviation Force Puts America at Risk

    The youngest B-52 bomber rolled off the assembly line 50 years ago. Remarkably, it’s still flying.

    Like many of the aircraft still used by the U.S. military, the B-52 is telltale example of America’s geriatric aviation force. At a time when our military is asked to do more with less, fiscal constraints have hampered its modernization and recapitalization strategy. Heritage is highlighting these challenges as part of Protect America Month and a three-part America at Risk video series.

    The B-52 might be among the Air Force’s most recognizable planes. Its maiden flight was in April 1952 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House and the Cold War posed the greatest threat to America’s security. Today it is still flying out of Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

    It’s not the military’s only aging aircraft, however. Along with tankers and fighters, America’s aviation force today is jeopardy of sacrificing dominance in the air environment that came with advancements in the 1960s and 1970s. Simply modernizing and updating those aircraft won’t provide the same edge.

    David A. Deptula, a retired three-star general, has witnessed this “geriatric aviation force” firsthand. He earned his wings and flew an F-15 for the first time in 1977. Thirty years later, another Deptula boarded the aircraft. His son, Lt. David A. Deptula II, flew the same F-15 at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan.

    The Wall Street Journal documented the amazing father-son story last fall to illustrate the challenges facing the aging force. The elder Deptula recounted for Heritage how the fighter was originally designed for a 4,000-hour service life. That was later extended to 8,000 hours.

    “We have really flown these aircraft well beyond what originally would be believed as their replacement lifetime,” Deptula said of the F-15s. “And now, because of some of the fiscal constraints that are being imposed on the Department of Defense, there is consideration being given to extending the lifetime even further.”

    Before retiring from the Air Force in 2010 as a lieutenant general, Deptula traveled to Kadena for a high-aspect mission with his son. He flew the F-15 and saw firsthand some of its deficiencies compared to newer aircraft like the F-22 and F-35.

    He knows the risks associated with flying an older aircraft as well. While serving as the joint task force commander in 1998 and 1999 for Operation Northern Watch, he flew 82 combat missions over Iraq. On one mission, as he was headed to a tanker to refuel, the master caution light came on, revealing a problem with the plane. His fuel gauge went to zero. Meanwhile, he was 500 miles away from his base. Fortunately, he was able to land safely.

    “The insulation was so old it simply had deteriorated to the extent where it came off and all of the wiring shorted out,” Deptula explained. “Those are the kinds of things that happen when airplanes get to certain ages.”

    While his aircraft was grounded, another set of airplanes traveled from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, on other side of the world, to replace the one that was being repaired.

    In the years that followed, the Air Force was forced to ground its entire F-15 fleet after one fighter disintegrated during a training mission in Missouri in 2007.

    Deptula worries that fiscal constraints imposed on the military — including $492 billion of mandatory defense cuts on the horizon — will result in future challenges.

    “I hear people talk about, well you know, the U.S. military spends more money than the next 17 nations combined,” Deptula said. “Well, the next 17 nations combined are not committed to maintaining peace and stability around the world. We are.”

    Heritage’s James Jay Carafano, an expert on defense and national security issues, worries that under the Obama administration, the military will continue to suffer from ill-advised budgeting.

    “Today’s air forces are the oldest in the history of U.S. air forces,” Carafano explained. “Replacing old airframes and ensuring the U.S. maintains its superiority over potential adversaries is a national security priority. Yet Obama has done little to show he takes the challenge of modernizing the air fleets seriously.”

    This is the second of a three-part series on the risks of budget cuts to America’s military. It was produced and directed by Will Lamborn. Brandon Stewart and Alison Meyer assisted with production. For more videos from Heritage, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

    Posted in Featured, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    16 Responses to VIDEO: Military's Aging Aviation Force Puts America at Risk

    1. allen says:

      What happened to the Aurora Program at Skunk Works in Area 51,? You have a project in the works at all times. Cut the Amored , Do we have to have a Carrier that so dam big that one shot can take her out? We have to many old people in the Pentagon that should be going and up grade to Younger thinking Stop spending money on Artillery that is useless the idea of lining them up is gone, More drones and Star Wars.type thinking ,Subs that can stay for a long time (Opps we got theses don't we.?

      • Scott says:

        The Skunk Works is owned by Lockheed Martin and is in Palmdale, CA not in Area 51.

    2. Lee Hayezs says:

      Gook information on our poor military budget and ageing planes.

    3. Bruce says:

      Obama anbd his cohearts are joyfully letting our military fade out.

    4. G.I. Joe says:

      To bad!! How about using the drones, you know the ones you want to use against the American people.This government has stolen the country and took everything from EVERYONE. Kids included. And the so-called members of congress and the other gang of oath breaking offices who are the other ones that sit in their offices collecting huge salaries do not or will not vote to stop any of this from going on for so long. This war that war and now getting ready to start war on the American people. My father flew during the Big War WWII and he is most likely spinning in his grave for what this country has become. I flew in Vietnam. (Cobra). I am ashamed/sick for what we did over their. How about just stop all of this war B.S and help the people. We do not need new planes we need to replace all the members in the offices who stole this country from the hard-working people. Once they are replaced then Jail them along with the family members who all got over on the American people. The courts need to be cleaned up and put away the crooks in there also. What a dream huh!!

    5. EARL HARNED says:

      From a former BUFF driver (1959-1964) She is an amazing old bird to have lasted as a front line aircraft for all those years. The wings and the tail were falling off way back then, but I sincerely believe that we were the dominating force in the Cuban Missile crisis ending as it did.. I really do not believe that it will ever be obsolete, due to the nature of the conflict in which we are in today. Maybe we should build some more. I'm sure they haven't destroyed the mold.

    6. Scott S. says:

      There is no doubt that we need F-22s and F-35s to replace aging F-15s, but don't include the B-52 as an example of our "geriatric aviation force." The BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow) may be old, but it is still a remarkable aircraft that has been updated countless times, and continues to do a fantastic job. It is even used for close air support, which is something it was never designed to do. The BUFF is expected to remain in service until 2045, not because there is no money to replace it, but because it simply works well.

    7. Kaye Stremke says:

      I wisb there would be more DVD or book like ths, would be glad to purchase it. just let me know.. Great joo

    8. Richard Hartman says:

      As a Veteran of the USAF, from the 1950's to early 1960's, I can very well understand the concern of our fleet of the now withstanding of a modern fleet of Fighter & Bomber type Aircraft. It is hard to keep up the pace of Peacetime Modern Jet Aircraft with the Magnitude cost of an individual Design, Prototype, R&D & last but not least , Production aircraft taking all facets into consideration.I believe the United States Air force needs a Huge shot in the arm to continue as a Superior force in today's World. The shot in the arm I am talking about , is cut out frivilous spending & do not sell our USAF, Navy Air Force & Marine Air Force short. This is my conclusion.

    9. Larry White says:

      Almost everyday we learn of another failure of the Liberal – now Socialist – leaders and their bureaucrats!
      I too served in the U. S. Air Force at Kadena AFB, Okinawa…Proudly.
      Our Constitution made our National Defense the primary responsibility of The Federal Government. The Obama Administration and liberals in Congress have changed that to Democrat Re-election Defense.
      Sadly, many Republicans have capitulated to that change. Shame on them too.

      Obama and his czars have done more damage to our national defense and economy than the USSR (remember them) or Communist China…and they are not done yet.
      When does impeachment become an alternative?
      Thank you Heritage.

    10. Tom says:

      The article and comments mention the Obama administration as contributing to the problem. However, we need to remember that the Tea Party movement is also part of the problem. Their emphasis on "the economy"–which is simply code for their own personal pocketbooks and portfolios–is blinding the conservative/Right to the issue, with some Tea Partiers actively supporting the Obama effort: (from 2011) http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/01/23/tea-partiers

      And to add insult to national injury, one of the Tea Party groups pushing for this has the hypocritical misnaming, "Tea Party Patriots." Tea Partiers have never struck me as the brightest bulbs in the knife drawer (mixed metaphor intentional). But on this, they are despicable.

      And don't get me started on the Ron Paul brigade!

    11. T. W. Bywaters says:

      YOU SAY. The first B-52 flew in April 52 when Eisenhower was President.
      ACTUALLY, Eisenhower was elected President in November 52 and Truman was still President until january 53.

    12. T. W. Bywaters says:

      YOU SAY. The first B-52 flew in April 52 when Eisenhower was President.

    13. Ken in IL says:

      So why don't they buy new F-15s ?? They cost 1/10th the amount of an F-22 or F-35 and they have never been beaten in combat! The F-22 & F-35 are not ready for prime time and are too expensive anyway !!

    14. First Sgt Bill says:

      As an Air Force veteran myself who worked on the B-52 in the 1961-1966 eras I was and am in awe of those great birds. That said, we need to build a new penetrating bomber to replace the 52. We also need to get the F-22 oxygen system working 100% of the time so that great airplane can take its place on our front line, without danger to the crews. We also need to build more of them; the production line is still in place so we have at least one full squadron in each Expeditionary Air Force. Some new F-15s – assuming they can be built – would be a nice complement – to the new F-22s. The F-35 isn’t doing so well in any air-to-air missions so far. It never may for that matter.

    15. First Sgt Bill says:

      In fact, looking at air needs and the budget: We really don't need four Air Forces either; we should (like the RAF) have a single Air Force, which supplies aircraft and pilots to all the services as needed. The Navy for carriers – which if we EVER get in a fight with someone with a modern Air Force – will all be sunk. The Marine and Army, to supply Close Air Support (CAS) to the ground troops, & the Marines (Air Force, too) could use some new A-10s for the dedicated CAS mission. In fact, Air Combat Command should be split into a CAS command (how about calling it TAC?) and an Air Superiority Command (ACC is fine), so there is never any question about the Air Force commitment to CAS. These changes would help to make our Air Force permanently number one.

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