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Virginia Can Help Keep U.S. Air Superiority

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Guaranteeing the future of American air superiority is a task that extends well beyond the five walls of the Pentagon. In fact, we in Virginia have an important part to play. This is certainly the case with the futuristic and important new F-35 Lighting II stealth fighter currently under development.

There are eighteen companies throughout the Commonwealth that supply parts and components for the F-35 Lightning II, a program with an economic impact exceeding $51 million in Virginia.

Critical to surviving in the future combat situations, the F-35 is stealth. It has the speed and agility of a fighter combined with long-range combat engagement capabilities and defensive features to jam enemy radio frequencies and disrupt attacks. In real time, this Joint Strike Fighter analyzes and transmits data from the battle space to other allied aircraft. With these capabilities, the F-35 allows our pilots to be fully six times more effective in their missions than the F-16 and F-18 that are flying today.

Earlier this year, Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said that if a the fifth-generation F-35 plane battles a fourth-generation plane – a F-16 or F-18 — “the fourth-generation plane dies,” regardless of the talents of that plane’s pilot.

Our nation has a solemn obligation to support to the fullest extent possible our men and women sent into combat. This F-35 program is critical in ensuring that these folks who choose to put on our country’s uniform and fight on our behalf are backed by the most advanced equipment in the world. With emerging adversaries such as Russia and China developing their own fifth generation aircraft, anything shy of a wholehearted commitment to the F-35 – the world’s only multi-role fifth generation aircraft – would put our military at risk of falling behind.

Within this Joint Strike Fighter program, overall costs are dropping and production rates are scheduled to ramp up in the next year. This means the price per aircraft is expected to continue to drop. As production rates move forward as projected, by 2020, the F-35 is expected to cost about the same as the decades-old fourth-generation aircraft it’s been designed to replace.

Leaders of our Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy all back the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program because it’s the best combat aircraft out there, and it’s the best for our pilots and the rest of our fighting force that will have a stake in future combat missions.

I was struck recently by a quote that ran in the Washington Post from Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh about the F-35. Welsh had testified before Congress about the tactical and cost-saving reasons for retiring older aircraft in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. And at a later event he took a more personal tone discussing the aircraft when he said, “You can’t dress up a fourth-generation airplane, our legacy fighters, and make it competitive with an F-35. . . . And so the real question for me… is do I want to look the moms and dads of America in the eye and say it’s okay that your son and daughter will be flying that older airplane. . . More of them will die. I’m not willing to have that conversation.”

So when we continue to struggle in an economy that simply can’t seem to break out of its lingering handover from the recession, a program that will bring jobs to Virginia and better protect our fighting men and women, and at a price that makes sense, seems like a no-brainer.

Our country faces a dangerous world, one growing more dangerous according the all that we read in our daily newspapers and more sophisticated journals. The first obligation of our country’s leaders is to protect us from foreign enemies and this new F-35 seems to “fit the bill” for that mission.

Let’s make sure that this important new addition to our military arsenal is fully supported. And it is my understanding that several of our allies are ready to purchase this aircraft as well. So that’s another reason to build this aircraft and shows that our allies understand its critical importance.

There are a lot of areas where our federal government can cut expenses, but we should not do so with military equipment that has proven its effectiveness and will keep our country at the cutting edge of defense technology. To do otherwise is unwise at best.

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