New in 2023: Welcoming new airframes to the fleet

The Air Force captured the aviation world’s attention when it rolled out the B-21 Raider stealth bomber in December. In 2023, the service hopes to show off the highly secretive aircraft’s first flight — though that target has been pushed back multiple times.

While the Raider may be the highest-profile plane in the acquisition pipeline, several others continue making their way into the inventory in 2023.

The Air Force is poised to purchase 24 F-15EX fighter jets in the coming year, and receive its first operational batch of the new Eagle II jets at Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon. The Boeing fighters will replace older F-15s with newer tech on a similar airframe.

Another 24 KC-46 Pegasus tankers are expected to replace retiring KC-10s and KC-135s, and five MH-139 Gray Wolf patrol helicopters will take over at nuclear missile fields for the UH-1N Huey fleet.

The $858 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2023 would let the Air Force buy 38 more F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, four EC-37B Compass Call electronic attack aircraft and 20 HH-60W Jolly Green II combat rescue helicopters. It also offers additional funds to speed up acquisition of the E-7 Wedgetail to replace the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System airborne target-tracking jet.

Congressional appropriators must still approve those acquisitions in the fiscal 2023 defense spending bill.

Meanwhile, pre-production flight testing will start on the T-7 Red Hawk training jet in 2023. But other milestones that were slated for the coming year will wait a while longer; the Air Force doesn’t expect to buy its first Red Hawks until 2024.