Striking a Balance

The Pentagon should focus the F-35 strike fighter on dealing with high-end contingencies and not look at it as a replacement for most existing fighter force structure, said Michael O’Hanlon, director of research for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. During an Aug. 6 discussion in Washington, D.C., on the findings of the Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review, O’Hanlon suggested reducing the planned F-35 buy by roughly half and sizing the F-35 fleet to deal with threat scenarios associated with nations like China, Iran, and North Korea. O’Hanlon said F-35s wouldn’t be necessary for missions like enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria. “There’s always a nice extra margin of safety in having a stealthy aircraft . . . but is it worth $100 billion to the country?” he asked. To fill out the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy force structure, O’Hanlon suggested using a greater combination of fourth generation aircraft—either building more F-16s and F/A-18s or upgrading the ones already in service. While curbing the F-35 buy by half would not save half of the F-35’s program costs, it could save 20 percent to 25 percent, he said. “That’s how you strike a balance,” he said. (Brookings Institution webpage of event, including audio.)