The US Navy and Air Force are seeking to require a number of vessels and aircraft in FY24, with the Navy asking to retire platforms including littoral combat ships (LCSs), amphibious ships (LSDs), Ticonderoga-class cruisers, attack submarines and expeditionary transfer docks. The Air Force is looking to retire 310 aircraft in 2024, significantly above the 150 retirements it recommended in 2023, this would include the retirement of 42 A-10s, as well as 57 F15C/Ds, F-22A raptors and E-3 Sentry aircraft. Both forces were not granted all of the retirements they asked for in FY23, and in particular Congress resisted the retirement of assets which had not reached the end of their lifespans, even if their utility was seen to have diminished.
The primary reason that these forces are seeking to retire these vessels is cost saving, with the Navy making the argument that retiring vessels ahead of schedule reduce overall maintenance costs as well as modernization costs, with the reduction of the LCSs fleet in particular avoiding modernization costs and passing anti-submarine capabilities to more modern craft (in this case the Constellation-class frigate). The Air Force is seeking to retire aging aircraft which they see as having limited effectiveness against peer competitors, such as the A-10, and freeing up funds for a sixth-generation fighter as well as autonomous capabilities.
Despite the logic from both branches, they likely face an uphill battle in Congress who rejected many of their requests last year. This includes long term resistance to the complete retirement of the A-10, as well as opposition to total retirement of
the E3 – despite its aging sensor technology it will likely not be replaced until the Air Force can submit to Congress an acquisition strategy to replace it with the E-7. The Navy’s request to retire a number of vessels early was rejected by Congress last year, only allowing the retirement of 14 out of 24 requested. Whilst the Navy is only requesting 11 retirements this year there is no guarantee that Congress will grant this request, in particular the LCSs which were only commissioned in 2015/16 but are now viewed as surplus to requirements.
Statements from both military branches indicate they are looking towards peer competitors, China in particular, and evaluating the lethality of their platforms in this context. A statement from the Air Force for example indicated that they need to allocate funding appropriately in order to ensure air dominance against China. Both forces will have difficult to decisions to make with regards to future procurements and the retirement of vessels deemed to lack lethality gives them breathing room in this regard.