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New in 2020: Legacy weapons systems on the chopping block?

Back in September, Air Force officials said they were taking a hard look at making major cuts to legacy weapons systems — potentially retiring entire aircraft inventories — to invest in the advanced technology needed to combat future threats.

Air Force Under Secretary Matt Donovan indicated the service was following the lead of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has said he is open to divesting legacy capabilities and has directed a Defense Department-wide review aimed at reshaping the fiscal 2021 budget.

“His guidance states that ‘no reform is too small, too bold or too controversial to be considered,’ ” Donovan said.

“The Air Force is leading the way with bold and likely controversial changes to our future budgets,” Donovan added. “We need to shift funding and allegiance from legacy programs we can no longer afford due to their incompatibility with future battlefields and into the capabilities and systems that the nation requires for victory. There’s no way around it.”

The Air Force has made attempts in the past, notably by trying to divest legacy aircraft like the A-10, U-2 and the RQ-4 Global Hawk to pay for modernization priorities. Congress rebuffed those plans.

Whether the Air Force goes through with its plans to retire legacy systems will become apparent in February, when the Defense Department reveals its budget request for fiscal 2021. But even if it does, Congress may view such attempts with skepticism.

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