Absolute Numbers

The figure of 1,763 F-35As needed by the Air Force remains the procurement objective, sequester or no sequester, said Lt. Gen. Burton Field, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements. Speaking with reporters at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Field said the F-35 objective number could change, however, if the national defense strategy is modified, as both are a function of the funds available. The F-35 buy number didn’t adjust with the appearance of Chinese and Russian stealth-like fighters in recent years, said Field, principally because the Air Force presumes those capabilities will take a long time to build, develop, and sustain. “Any advancement in some kind of capability we may have to fight is obviously worrisome,” he said, “but we think between the inventory we have and our national arsenal that we’ll be able to handle those kinds of threats.” After decades, the Air Force is getting “pretty good” at operating with stealth, but “it’s still a learning experience,” said Field. Nations with stealth ambitions “have a lot of learning to do to produce and sustain those aircraft over time,” he said. Still, new foreign fighters and advanced air defense systems “give us the clear vector that we need the capabilities of a fifth generation aircraft in order to operate in these sort of environments,” said Field. That said, “everything is on the table” in light of the possible sequester, he noted.