Stealth Surge: Yes, America Needs All 1,760 F-35A Stealth Fighters

Dan Goure

Key point: The F-35 is vital to ensure American air dominance into the future.

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.”

The JSF has already demonstrated that it has the potential to totally change the balance of air power vis-à-vis potential U.S. adversaries. Although there is a misperception that the JSF is primarily intended for air-to-ground missions, its air-to-air capabilities are superb. In last year’s Red Flag combat exercises, the F-35 scored a stunning 20-1 kill ration. According to one experienced Air Force pilot, the F-35 totally dominates fourth generation aircraft:

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