Precious few Americans drive cars manufactured in 1964—the same isn't true of the US Air Force. The average age of an Air Force plane ranges from 25 years for an F-15 to 47 years for refueling aircraft, the Wall Street Journal reports in a look at a pricey problem. The US military arsenal is getting old—and updating it could cost tens of billions, at a time when Washington is looking to slash the defense budget by hundreds of billions. "We have a geriatric Air Force," says one retired three-star general whose son flies the same F-15 he did three decades ago—an F-15 that was forced to make an emergency landing in 1999 due to disintegrating wiring.
Equipment needs to be repaired, replaced, overhauled, updated, and, in some cases, simply phased out. "Platforms from the build-up of the 1980s are reaching the end of their shelf life," explained Leon Panetta in a message to Pentagon officials last month. Adding to the problem: Since 9/11, military spending has gone not to tanks and fighter jets but to the body armor, bomb-resistant vehicles, and other items specific to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in the last decade, according to one think tank's calculations, $46 billion has been spent on modernization programs whose next-generation weapons never made it to the battlefield. (Read more US military stories.)