As Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh visited airmen in Hawaii and at Kadena AB, Japan, this week, he emphasized that the service is committed to seeing the F-35 program to fruition, as the fifth generation fighter’s success has great implications for the Air Force’s role in future conflicts. “The F-35 is flying, it is a real thing, and progress is real,” he said. Several countries, including Russia and China, are working on fifth generation fighters, he said, and even if the United States does not go to war with these countries, it will inevitably have to confront the military technology they sell to others. Extending the service lives of fourth generation aircraft, and even supplanting the force structure with generation “4.5” fighters, does not solve the problem. “When a fifth generation fighter meets a fourth generation fighter—[the latter] dies,” said Welsh. “We can’t just dress up a fourth generation fighter as a fifth generation fighter; we need to get away from that conversation,” he said.
The Pentagon awarded a contract worth over $2 billion for the next batch of F-35 engines to Pratt & Whitney on June 5. The deal for Lot 17 F135 engines, totaling $2.02 billion, is expected to be completed by December 2025.