The People's Republic of China has just revealed its fifth generation fighter, the Chengdu J-20. This fighter is designed to compete with our F-22, (now limited to a mere 18 planes) and will be markedly better than the F-35 that we will be deploying instead.
A logical examination of the present state and future plans for our Air Force would be dismaying.
1) Our refueling fleet is aging, and the attempt to replace it have so far resulted in only billions of dollars of waste and several lawsuits.
2) Our transport fleet is being quickly worn out by the demands placed on it. There are no plans to expand or replace it.
3) Not too long ago, our fighter forces were varied, specialized and very efficent at their tasks. The Air Force was flying the A-10, F-15, F-16, F-111, F-117 and even a few F-4s. The Navy was flying the A-6, F-14 and F-18. Now all of these planes are supposedly going to be replaced by the F-35 and less than a wing of F-22s. Didn't we learn our lesson from the F-4 and the F-111? Both of these planes suffered from the attempt to make them jacks of all trades.
4) Our bomber fleet is ridiculous. The last B-52 rolled off the assembly line in 1962 (that means the newest of them is almost 50 years old!), and yet we are still flying 68 of them. The Air Force intends to continue flying them until 2040!! The last B-1 was delivered in 1988, and the Air Force is still flying 68 of them. They were expected to remain in service until 2038, however talks have begun in the Pentagon that would see them retired now as a budget cut. The Air Force also has 20 operational B-2s. All of them have official, individual names. All but two of the names are US States, the exceptions being the Spirit of America and the Spirit of Kittyhawk. These are expected to be replaced by the F-35, and my bet would be on soon, given the difficulty and expense of maintaining them. All 20 of them have been assigned to the Air Force Global Strike Command (which is basically a resurrected Strategic Air Command) and thus no longer have a conventional bombing role.
My only hope, and frankly expectation, is that we have deployed, or are close to deploying, an operational space plane. This plane would take off, (hopefully from a runway, but launched on rockets would work) enter near-Earth orbit, and effectively control the world's air space. This would even explain the lack of a real opposition to the START talks...who needs nuclear weapons when kinetic energy weapons work better and cleaner.
My last point is a reply to this comment at the end of the article:
“We used be No. 1 at having the leading technology. ... Now, we’re kind of in catch-up mode, where we’ve never really been before.”
This is simply ignorant of history. Actually, it almost always happens to us. (and in all areas of military technology, not just airplanes) In World War I our planes were no match for the German planes when we entered the war. In World War II our planes were no match for either the Germans or Japanese when we entered the war. In Korea, our planes were inferior to the Russian and Chinese MiGs at the start of the war. During times of war (including the Cold War) the US manages to use its economy and ingenuity to overcome the advantages of our enemies, but it is rather expensive in terms of loss of life until they swing into motion.
Update 1/8/10 2:52 PM: I have read articles that discuss the fact that the USAF has 168 F-22s since I wrote this post, which would greatly lessen the threat of the J-20.