The Air Force in 2021 will start working on retiring multiple aircraft — but not as many as it had hoped.

Service leaders originally asked Congress for permission to mothball more than 100 aircraft, freeing up funds that could instead be used to modernize areas including space technologies and Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control.

But Congress pulled back on the Air Force’s plans in the 2021 defense authorization bill passed in December. (The House has voted to overide President Trump’s veto of the bill, and the Senate is now poised to do the same.)

For example, the key spending bill blocked the Air Force from retiring any of its A-10 Warthogs, KC-135 Stratotankers, or its Block 20 and 30 RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones. However, the Air Force did get the greenlight to retire some bombers, cargo planes, and other tankers. The Air Force plans to retire 17 of its oldest B-1B Lancer bombers, which require significant maintenance and are straining the Air Force’s ranks of maintainers.

Congress also granted permission to retire six KC-10s in fiscal 2021, and a total of 30 tankers over the next three years. And the bill leaves the door open for the Air Force to retire some older C-130 cargo planes.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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