The United States Air Force's Chief of Staff, General Schwartz, testified to the House Armed Services Committee that the Air Force is willing to sacrifice their current fleet of A-10, F-15 and F-16 aircraft to free up funds to expedite delivery of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The JSF will be delivered in various configurations for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to replace F-16, F/A-18 and AV-8B aircraft.
General Schwartz stated that the Air Force wanted to begin moving the JSF to its maximum production rate of 110 a year as soon as possible. Secretary of Defense Gates has proposed ending F-22 production and speeding the JSF up to make up for the end of the high end, stealthy aircraft. Schwartz proposed retiring two hundred and fifty older aircraft to free money up to purchase the JSF.
The JSF is at the stage where it is transitioning from development to production and that is a time in a program that is fraught with difficulties. If there are issues that were not discovered in testing that can delay the onset of full production, or if issues arise in the production line that too can increase schedule and cost.
If these kind of things do happen then the USAF could be caught with a smaller, less capable force for a time as the older aircraft are retired and the JSF fighters are not delivered. There will also be a gap where you do not have the right mix of crew which might require more investment in training. The F-15 especially is starting to have problems due to its age and certainly a more rapid procurement of the JSF would solve those problems.
Another tack might be to continue production of the F-22 while retiring the aircraft. That line is hot and stable and while the F-22 is certainly more expensive then the F-35 a decent number could be bought for the kind of money the Air Force thinks it will save with the retirements. It is obvious that this will be a major discussion as the 2010 budget is developed.