US Air Force struggles with aging fleet

For decades, the US Air Force has grown accustomed to such superlatives as unrivaled and unbeatable. These days, some of its key combat aircraft are being described with terms like geriatric, or decrepit.

The aging of the US Air Force, a long-simmering topic in defense circles, made a brief appearance in the presidential debates when Republican nominee Mitt Romney cited it as evidence of the decline of US military readiness.

His contention that the Navy is the smallest it's been since 1917 got more attention, thanks to President Barack Obama's quip that the Navy also has fewer "horses and bayonets."

But analysts say the Air Force has a real problem, and it will almost certainly get worse no matter who wins Tuesday's election. It was created in part by a lack of urgency in the post-Cold War era, and by design glitches and cost overruns that have delayed attempts to build next-generation aircraft.

Looming budget cuts limit the force's ability to correct itself, they argue, as China's rise as a world power heightens its need to improve. And though the world's most formidable air force never had much use for bayonets, it's got more than its share of warhorses.

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