Critical Defense Program
This week, the House will consider the Defense Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2006. This bill provides more than $400 billion for our national defense, including significant funding for the F/A-22, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the V-22. It takes the United States in the right direction to meet the unpredictable national security challenges of the 21st Century.
In the 1988 confirmation hearing for then-Secretary of Defense Designee Dick Cheney, not a single question was asked about Iraq. Similarly, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t asked about Afghanistan in his 2001 confirmation hearing.
These anecdotes strikingly illustrate that we live in a world today of unpredictable dangers and we must be prepared to meet any and all threats. How many “experts” predicted three decades ago that the Cold War would be history and we would be fighting a global war on terrorism? Not many!
Unfortunately, some argue that the war on terrorism, and Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom prove that our current fighter and bomber aircraft developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s are adequate for the coming decades, as long as we upgrade these weapon systems with newer technology.
I think the opposite is true.
If we simply upgrade our existing military hardware and don’t develop the next generation of aircraft, we will not be able to guarantee our military superiority in the future. We will risk our future national security if we take a complacent approach to air capabilities, and the eventual cost could be much more than just money.
Upgrading existing weapons systems only gets us so far. For example, we have upgraded our F-16 and F-15 fleet continually since they started rolling off their assembly lines in the 1970’s But now we are reaching a limit on how much more we can do to improve on these aircraft without hampering performance.
We have to take the next leap in technology with the F/A-22, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the V-22 Tiltrotor to guarantee future air superiority and to ensure that the United States has the same level of dominance 30 years from now. If the Taliban and Saddam Hussein had had the most advanced surface to air missiles that are on the market today, our coalition aircraft would not have achieved the same level of air superiority and resulting success that they did.
Our nation must proceed as if future enemies will have strong air defenses and air forces. We simply can not predict the threats and enemies that we will face in the years ahead.
The F/A-22 is the state of the art, next-generation fighter aircraft. Undetectable on enemy radar, the F/A-22 carries a larger weapons load and increased missile range; and it is faster and more maneuverable than its predecessor, the F-15. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense has recommended ending procurement for the F/A-22 in Fiscal year 2009. Senior defense officials have pledged to re-evaluate this decision during the upcoming Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Review.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the prime 21st Century multi-role fighter for the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The basic Joint Strike Fighter design, with a few modifications to meet each service’s needs, will be used by all three services. The Joint Strike Fighter will have the best next-generation avionics, weapons systems and stealth capabilities.
The V-22 Osprey is absolutely essential to the Department of Defense’s transformation efforts, and is in its final stages of testing. The V-22, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, can fly at twice the speeds, carry three times the payload and has three to five times the range of current helicopters. This will give our military the ability to get troops in and out of remote war zones and hostile situations faster and safer than ever before. Secretary Rumsfeld has said that we need “lighter, more agile forces that can move more quickly, and that have a smaller footprint.” The V-22 gives us all of that and more.
In order to ensure our future air superiority, Congress must continue adequate funding of these aircraft programs. The House Defense Appropriations bill provides significant funding for all three of these programs, proving that Congress recognizes that they are important to the transformation of our military to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
Today, I expect the House to do the right thing and overwhelmingly pass the Defense Appropriations bill.
Passage of this bill will send a strong message to the American people that Congress is committed to the defense of our homeland. It will send a message to the Pentagon that these programs are vital to our future national security as it conducts the Quadrennial Defense Review this summer. And it will send a strong message that America has the best defense system in the world to protect itself from any group or country that harbors any desire to harm the Unites States or its interests abroad.