Op-ed: F-35 injects more than $12 million into Alabama’s economy
By: State Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills)
While American air superiority is a global fact today, there is no guarantee it will be maintained in the future. That’s why the Pentagon is investing now to replace our country’s aging fleet of fourth-generation fighters with the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II, a process that injects more than $12 million into Alabama’s economy.
Our current fleet of aircraft has served us well, from the mid-1970s when the first fourth-generation fighter went into service (F-14 Tomcat), to today. But the F-35 is what will carry us into the future.
It is a multi-role combat aircraft that combines radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speed capabilities and fighter agility. The aircraft tracks and transmits data from its entire battle space so threats can be identified, shared with coalition forces and neutralized quickly from long-range.
As Assistance Secretary of the Air Force Dr. William LaPlante told Congress, “A fourth generation fighter cannot successfully compete with a fifth generation fighter in combat, nor can it survive and operate inside the advanced, integrated air defenses that some countries have today, and many more will have in the future.”
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, a former A-10 pilot and current Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, went event further, saying that he fears a greater number of American pilots will be killed in battle if the military does not continue its efforts to modernize our fleet of aircraft.
“(T)he real question for me is do I want to look at the moms and dads of America in the eye and say it’s okay that your son or daughter will be flying that older airplane because they’re really good and we’ll win the war anyway?” he told the Center for Strategic International Studies. “More of them will die. I’m not willing to have that conversation. The number-one superpower in the world shouldn’t.”
But as with any project the Department of Defense undertakes, the F-35 is not without detractors. Many have criticized the aircraft because of its costs and delays, which have made it one of the most expensive weapons systems ever created.
But its price is actually comparable to that of legacy fighters in the beginning stages of their production, and it is slated to become considerably cheaper over the next five years as production rates increase. The Pentagon currently plans to buy 2,443 of the aircraft, which is on track to be declared combat ready by the U.S. Marine Corps in July of 2015. And USAF Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan recently told reporters that by 2019, the F-35A will likely cost about the same as today’s fourth-generation aircraft.
The bottom line is this: the fourth generation fighters just cannot keep up in this dangerous world, but the F-35 Lightning II Program will help our country stay safe long into the future.
We need to ask our leaders in Washington to continue to support this program for the safety of our fighting men and women and our national security. Our military leaders understand this and are committed to the F-35 Lightning Program and its success. Alabama should be too.
Rep. Jack Williams represents District 47 in the Alabama House of Representatives. He can be reached at email@example.com.