The F-35 or Bust

The Air Force simply can’t do without the F-35 strike fighter, and buying new fourth generation fighters to maintain inventories is a bad solution to F-35 delays, said Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Hostage Thursday. He told a luncheon of AFA’s D.W. Steele Chapter in Arlington, Va., that “beyond 2018, our fourth generation fleet can’t fight without fifth generation fighters” to back them up and becoming an ever-larger share of the force. “We have a woefully tiny F-22 fleet, and we won’t be getting any more,” he continued, and the F-35 is “meeting all its parameters” for performance. After the “painful-agony-of-concurrency” problems have been shaken out, Hostage said he has no doubt the F-35 will be a world-beater. “I have every reason to believe” the F-35 will be up to the job, and do it better than any other aircraft, “but I need all 1700-plus,” he said during his April 26 address. Without the F-35 in sufficient numbers, the F-15 and F-16 fleet “can’t survive” the murderous environment of anti-access, aerial-denial systems no matter how tricked-out with upgrades they are, he said. The F-35 concurrency issue is “getting smaller” as fewer bugs are discovered in testing and fewer changes need to be made to the early production jets, but “it’s a fact of life,” said Hostage, and the same kind of issues plagued all previous fighters. He thinks the F-35 is doing better at this stage of production and test than any previous airplane, however.