Discretionary Spending

Function 050 - National Defense

Reduce the Size of the Fighter Force by Retiring the F-22

CBO periodically issues a compendium of policy options (called Options for Reducing the Deficit) covering a broad range of issues, as well as separate reports that include options for changing federal tax and spending policies in particular areas. This option appears in one of those publications. The options are derived from many sources and reflect a range of possibilities. For each option, CBO presents an estimate of its effects on the budget but makes no recommendations. Inclusion or exclusion of any particular option does not imply an endorsement or rejection by CBO.

Billions of Dollars 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2019-
Change in Planned Defense Spending  
  Budget authority 0 -2.9 -3.2 -3.1 -3.2 -3.3 -3.4 -3.5 -3.6 -3.7 -12.3 -29.9
  Outlays 0 -1.7 -2.5 -2.8 -3.0 -3.1 -3.3 -3.4 -3.5 -3.6 -10.0 -26.7

This option would take effect in October 2019.
Estimates of savings displayed in the table are based on cost estimates from the Air Force.


The U.S. Air Force's F-22 fighter aircraft are designed to engage in combat with enemy aircraft. Built to be a stealthy fighter, the F-22 is difficult for enemy radar to detect. The Air Force initially planned to replace its F-15 A-D fighters (many of which were built in the 1970s and 1980s) with F-22s.

In 1990, the Air Force had approximately 360 F-15A/Bs and 450 F-15C/Ds. Earlier plans called for replacing those F-15 A-Ds with 648 F-22s. However, because of schedule delays, cost increases, and changes to threats and missions, the Department of Defense (DoD) reduced the number of F-22s acquired to 195, of which approximately 180 remain in regular operation. As a result of the reduction in the number of F-22s, the Air Force continues to operate approximately 240 F-15C/Ds. (All of the F-15A/Bs have been retired.) The Air Force's oldest active F-22s entered service in November 2002, and its newest entered service in April 2012.


This option would retire the entire F-22 fleet in October 2019. The aircraft would be flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where they would be put into long-term preservation and storage.

Effects on the Budget

Retiring the F-22 fleet would reduce costs by about $30 billion through 2028. That amount comprises three categories of savings: operation and maintenance (about $16 billion); upgrades and modifications (about $9 billion); and military personnel (about $5 billion). By retiring the F-22 fleet, the Air Force would no longer have to pay the annual costs to operate and maintain those aircraft or to train pilots to fly them. A large portion of the work to maintain the aircraft is handled by its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, through a contractual arrangement with the Air Force. (The Air Force also has a support contract with Pratt & Whitney, the company that built the aircraft's engines.) The Congressional Budget Office's estimate of savings incorporates the assumption that once those contracts ended and fewer workers were needed to operate and maintain the F-22s, the Air Force would reduce its civilian and contractor workforces accordingly. Second, retiring the F-22 fleet would make upgrades or modifications to improve the aircraft's capabilities unnecessary. (Those improvements would have been funded through two of the Air Force's budgets: procurement, and research, development, test, and evaluation.)

The estimate of savings includes reductions in military personnel associated with the fighter squadrons that would be removed from the force. Personnel from the inactivated squadrons would be moved to other jobs in the Air Force, reducing the service's need to recruit and train new personnel. If the department did not reduce the number of personnel in the force and instead reassigned the military positions to other duties, the savings would be $5 billion lower.

Measured in terms of outlays, savings would total about $27 billion from 2019 through 2028, CBO estimates. The effects on outlays are smaller in 2020 than in other years because some of the funding appropriated in that year would be spent in later years. Reductions in outlays lag behind reductions in budget authority because DoD pays its contractors after work is performed. Retiring only a portion of the fleet would not generate commensurate savings because of the fixed costs associated with operating any F-22s. The fleet is already smaller than DoD intended, so the costs per aircraft are elevated; retiring only part of the fleet would increase costs per aircraft even further. A significant uncertainty surrounding the estimated savings stems from averting future upgrades or modifications—the costs of which are hard to predict.

Other Effects

One argument for this option is that retiring the F-22 would not eliminate the military's stealthy aviation capability. DoD's growing fleet of F-35 fighter aircraft has that capability. Although F-35s are not optimized for air-to-air combat in the way F-22s are, they could partially replace the capabilities lost through retirement of the F-22s. In addition, the Air Force would retain its ability to attack ground targets with stealthy aircraft by using the B-2 bomber and the B-21 bomber (which is currently in development).

One argument against this option is that it would reduce the Air Force's fighter force by about 10 percent (assuming that all else was unchanged). That decrease would have an adverse effect on the Air Force's ability to fight adversaries such as Russia or China, which have advanced air-defense systems and which also fly sophisticated fighter aircraft. DoD expects that the F-22 would be particularly valuable in countering enemy aircraft in the initial days of a conflict, when an adversary's aerial detection capabilities have not yet been degraded.