Experts who propose budget cuts at the Pentagon often single out one especially big program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That’s bad, because the F-35 is a top priority and its already been slowed down too much. See the full piece here. Recall teh background. The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are all purchasing the stealthy, information-savvy fighter as they retire older planes. The idea for the program goes back to the Clinton administration and ended the practice of the three services developing their own unique fighter aircraft. The F-35 was put on “probation” for a while in 2010 but is now doing very well in its test flights. For different reasons, first Bush and then Obama slowed down production rate, mostly to save money in the short term. Unfortunately, that’s put the program behind. Originally the US was supposed to have about 1000 F-35s by 2012. Instead less than a hundred had been manufactured by then.
Still, chatter about deep F-35 cuts continues even though it makes little economic or strategic sense. The strategic challenge comes from adding up possible threats in the Pacific and other regions. Today, China has over 1,300 fighters capable of carrying advanced weapons. The total aircraft inventory of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is much higher. A one-for-one match won’t hack it. The U.S. and allies need a superior ratio in the Pacific, probably more like three-to-one. Then consider air defenses, like the long-range surface-to-air missiles that can be deployed by Chinese naval ships ranging the Pacific. The fact is that U.S. forces must prepare to operate in a hostile, contested environment whether in the Pacific or elsewhere. Buying F-35 is a key part of that strategy for deterrence and balance in Pacific, and yes, numbers do matter.
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