There are reports circulating that the U.S. Air Force is considering major cuts to its planned procurement of 1,760 F-35As. This would be a colossal blunder. The F-35 is too good for the Air Force (as well as the Navy and Marine Corps) to not acquire their full allotment. If anything, the Air Force should increase its annual procurements to more rapidly improve its warfighting capabilities and lower unit costs.
The West is in danger of losing the fight to operate effectively in contested airspace.
Russia and China have developed and continue to improve their Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) that can engage hostile air threats at all altitudes and ranges out to 400 kilometers. The Russian system, deployed in Western Russia, Belarus and Kaliningrad, places much of NATO airspace at risk. Both China and Russia are investing heavily in advanced aircraft programs designed to catch up with U.S. fifth-generation systems such as the F-22 and F-35. Russian advanced air defense missile systems are currently being marketed to major U.S. allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
There is only one near-term answer to the growing IADS threat. It is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Together with the limited fleet of U.S. F-22s, the F-35, once available in sufficient numbers, holds the promise of maintaining U.S. air superiority for decades to come.
The former commander of the U.S. Air Combat Command, General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, boldly asserted that fifth generation aircraft are the keys to victory for U.S. forces in future wars.
The technologies in the F-22 and the F-35 provide situational awareness of a conflict that is unparalleled in modern war, and lethal tools that enable both aircraft to perform at a higher level. Fifth-generation assets employed by joint forces give the U.S. “the asymmetric advantage we need to win our nation’s wars.”