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America's Future Air Superiority

September 18, 2013

As recent events around the world underscore, the world is getting more dangerous, and less certain, with every passing month. If we don’t prepare as a nation for the increasing threats we will most certainly face in the not so distant future, our nation and our allies will likely pay a steep price. The United States must remain the strongest nation, and have the best equipped and trained military, to ensure peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren. The stakes are that high.

Maintaining air superiority is the key component of our ability to deter hostile actions and if necessary, win any war in the future. Our current legacy fighter fleet of F-15s, F-16s, AV-8s, A-10s and F/A-18s, known as 4th Generation fighters, are rapidly aging while the air-to-air and air-to-ground threat is increasing at a similar pace. Since the 5th Generation F-22 fighter buy was truncated at 187 aircraft, our military won’t be able to guarantee air superiority in future conflicts and American airpower will no longer serve as a credible deterrent if the United States doesn’t follow through with current plans to replace our remaining legacy fighters with the 5th Generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The old adage coined by President Reagan - “Peace through Strength” – must always guide our national security procurement decisions.

Russia and China are rapidly developing their own 5th Generation stealth fighter jets. Russia is developing its long-awaited stealth fighter – the PAK/FA T-50 – and planning to sell it in the world market. China is investing heavily in the J-20 and J-31 stealth fighter prototypes and many analysts believe they will build them in significant numbers. These countries are also building and proliferating, advanced surface-to-air missile systems that threaten to make our 4th Generation fighter fleet largely obsolete. Just this week, Russia announced it may renew its plans to sell advanced versions of its highly lethal S-300 surface-toair missile system to Syria and Iran. These efforts by America’s geopolitical adversaries should remind policymakers that it is essential for the US and our allies to maintain our technological edge.

The F-35’s stealth technology and advanced capabilities are crucial to rapidly establishing air superiority and achieving military success against these advanced surface-to-air and air-to-air threats without incurring significant losses.

The F-35 will provide our Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps with one family of interoperable stealth fighters capable of providing support for ground troops or attacking distant targets at sea or land. With three versions built around a common design, the F-35 program will provide the versatility needed for the Air Force to operate on conventional runways, the Navy to operate on aircraft carriers and the Marines to take off in very short distances and land vertically.

In addition to being a tri-service joint program, the F-35 is the Defense Department’s largest international cooperative program with America’s allies. By invitation of the US government, eight partner countries are participating: the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. These allied nations have indicated plans to purchase over 700 F-35 aircraft, with the UK alone expected to buy 138 aircraft for its Air Force and Navy, helping reduce the procurement cost of US F-35 fighters.  In addition to the partner nations, key US allies Israel and Japan have committed to buying F-35’s in the near future. Clearly, Allied participation is indispensable for keeping the program affordable, ensuring that the F-35 will enable the US to maintain our technological advantage over current or future potential rivals such as Russia and China and building international coalitions to counter emerging threats throughout the world. The F-35 will close the capability gap that exists in coalition operations today, enabling true burden sharing among the allies while reducing the long term costs to all participating nations.

US and allied air superiority can no longer be taken for granted. Therefore, the US government and our partners must remain committed to the 5th Generation F-35 program during these fiscally challenging times. If we hold fast together, the F-35, along with the F-22, will provide dominance in the skies for the next half-century.