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Hickenlooper Leads Letter Calling for “Fleet Leveling” to Preserve Air National Guard’s Fighter Capability

Dec 5, 2023

WASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall urging the use of “fleet leveling” – balancing fighters across active duty, Air National Guard (ANG), and Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) squadrons to allow time for industry production capacity to catch up with demand. Currently, the Air National Guard is set to lose two fighter missions in the next three years, undermining critical combat capacity and cutting jobs for hundreds of combat-proven fighter pilots, maintainers, and support personnel.

“Our goal is to ensure invaluable fighter experience and capabilities can continue to be leveraged in support of our nation’s defense,” wrote the senators and representatives. “Fleet leveling maintains existing fighter squadrons, preserves combat capacity essential to Great Power Competition, and allows procurement to catch up to demand.”

Currently, ANG and AFRC fighter bases across the country are facing uncertainty as they wait to recapitalize aging aircraft or risk losing their fighter missions entirely. In July, Hickenlooper and Crapo introduced the Fighter Force Preservation and Recapitalization Act, legislation to preserve military readiness by preventing the closure of ANG fighter squadrons at a time when pilot and maintenance manning are at critically low levels. 

Since 1987, the Air Force fighter fleet has been reduced by 60 percent. The ANG represents 27 percent of the Air Force fighter force and is responsible for 94 percent of homeland defense missions. Currently, the Air Force is moving to divest many of the ANG legacy equipment, including older F-16s, A-10s, and F-15Cs without a plan to recapitalize them with advanced aircraft. Removing these craft without backfilling the force would put ANG squadrons at a loss during a time of heightened international conflict. 

Senators Hickenlooper and Mike Crapo led the letter in the Senate, while Representatives John James and Don Bacon led the letter in the House. They were joined by 47 other members of Congress, including Senator Bennet.  Full text of the letter is available here.


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