The Air Force in 2006 scaled back its F-35 purchase plan to a maximum of 48 airframes a year; however, a fighter gap looms, now making it necessary to increase F-35 production, Gen. Norton Schwartz told the Senate Armed Services Committee July 21 during his confirmation hearing as Chief of Staff. Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked Schwartz whether buying more F-35s was preferable to purchasing more F-22s. “Increasing the [F-35] production rate from 48 per year to as high as 110 per year,” responded Schwartz, “is the major strategy for addressing the inventory shortfalls as we go out toward 2025.” Schwartz continued, saying that the F-22 is “an essential part of the force mix” and is not, as many think, “only an air-to-air platform.” He said, “It has important capability for destruction of enemy air defenses in an era when surface-to-air missile threats are available from the commercial market and are increasingly lethal.” He would not offer an estimate, however, on the proper number of F-22s. In his advance testimony to the committee, Schwartz noted that the revised guidance for the Fiscal 2010 future years defense plan authorizes “a $5 billion boost for our recapitalization efforts, and that will certainly help” to realize USAF’s priority “to bring F-35s into the Air Force as swiftly as possible.”
The Collaborative Combat Aircraft will be operational in the late 2020s, several years before the Next-Generation Air Dominance family of systems, Air Force officials told the House Armed Services tactical aviation panel. The CCAs will first be “shooters,” then electronic warfare platforms, then sensors, in that order, they added.