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Guest Op-Ed: J-20 Shows Need for JSF

by Ward Carroll on January 24, 2011

Recently DefenseTech ran a piece about the Chinese J-20 “stealth” fighter that points out it may be less troublesome than the initial hype suggested. I put “stealth” in scare quotes for just that reason; we have no idea whether this is a legitimate stealth aircraft or just some fancy sheet metal and paint. We have no clue if they have managed to engineer the sensors and electronic systems needed to fly it or to allow it to go up against our frontline birds.

But that really shouldn’t be giving us a warm fuzzy. If they had actually fielded an aircraft capable of even competing with the F-22 or F-35 it would be keeping everyone responsible for our security up at night. This was still a pretty decent scare and it certainly should remind some folks that the Chinese believe they have surpassed us in the world. Their actions show the truth of that as they build a blue water navy and a blue sky air force and do not recognize any U.S. right to dominate either of those.

Rep. Cantor said this weekend that every government program is on the table for budget cuts and specifically included defense. That should surprise no one in the current environment; our budget and debt problems are now a national security issue. They stop us from acting with the strength we should when countries like China, who holds around a trillion dollars of our debt, start acting up. So cuts to defense will come and the question then becomes how to make sure we don’t lose our ability to control the sea lanes and the air above our forces.

The F-22 program has been cancelled and so we have already removed the only true air superiority fighter we designed from the equation. That leaves the F-35 as our frontline fighter and also our biggest weapons procurement program. We will win or lose based on the number and capability of these planes if we are tested. Of course we hope that doesn’t happen, but we have to build the tools we need to win especially to deter someone from trying us if we appear weak.

There are no other programs that can replace the F-35 any time in the next couple of decades. The problem starts when cuts to production start driving up the cost of each aircraft. This can cause a cascade as the thousands of suppliers have orders cut or delayed and they are much less able to absorb these than the large contractors. Some of these companies then have to lay off staff and may even go out of business. Then you have a smaller supply of suppliers so prices climb and this spiral is difficult to contain. In a time when our economy is stagnant it makes no sense to kill good-paying American jobs, and at the same time weaken our national security.

If the F-35 is our bird, then let’s get behind it; let’s get it finished, and then let’s get them in the air.

- John Wagner, co-founder of the first US airline to provide scheduled service into Baghdad after the U.S. invasion.

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