“Among the most difficult challenges facing the Air Force is the need to modernize,” writes Michael Donley, the Secretary of the Air Force.

Despite major engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Libya since the end of the Cold War, the Air Force currently operates the oldest fleet it has ever had. Sadly, sequestration threatens the future of modernization plans, drives up operations and maintenance costs, and prevents the United States from building the Air Force that the country needs in the future.

The Air Force fleet is often described as “geriatric” or “decrepit.” It is becoming inadequate to support U.S. national security interests, too. Since 2001, the number of Air Force fighters has fallen by about 25 percent. The Air Force has 372 fewer F-16s, 263 fewer F-15s, and 52 fewer F-117s than were in the inventory in 2001, and no modern strategic bombers. The bulk of the bomber fleet comprises B-52s, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary since it was first commissioned.

In The Heritage Foundation’s “America at Risk” video (above), General Dave Deptula mentions that the average age of the F-15 C & D models is approaching 30 years. In 2007, an F-15 broke in half during a training mission in St. Louis, Missouri. As a result of this incident, the whole F-15 program was grounded for months. One can hardly imagine what the consequences would be of such an incident during war.

The Air Force, however, does not operate only planes. It oversees and is responsible for modernizing U.S. satellite constellations (including the launch infrastructure), providing everything from early missile warning to navigation and intelligence. Just like other military services, the Air Force needs to maintain secure and resilient command and control infrastructure. The nation depends on these critical capabilities and on preserving their viability in the future.

According to Secretary Donley, the Air Force will have to shed $54 billion from its budget over the next five years under the Budget Control Act. Sequestration would likely increase this amount further. The Heritage Foundation identified $150 billion in annualized savings that would replace the sequestration cuts. Stopping sequestration should now be the first priority of Congress in order to preserve the nation’s capacity to keep the peace and sustain its commitment to allies around the world.