March 1, 2007  


Which finds itself in a new fight for new aircraft, this time for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Yet the Air Force shows no sign of considering the compromise that might help it win the fight — buy fewer F-22s. The fiscal 2008 budget request caps annual deliveries of F-35s at 48 well into the next decade. This is far short of the bare minimum 80 airplanes a year needed for the Air Force to avoid a massive and costly service-life extension on aging F-16s and A-10s. Meanwhile, F-35 unit costs will soar as fewer are purchased each year. At some point, despite the many budget pressures across all the services, the Air Force has to recapitalize its fleet with new aircraft. Bolting on new wings, as would be necessary to safely prolong the life of the A-10s, only buys time at a cost that makes no sense compared with getting the numbers and deliveries right for the F-35s. The Air Force needs at least 1,100 F-35s to replace its aging fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft. Forty-eight F-35s a year won’t get the service there; it’s the wrong number. The Air Force has the means, however, to get the number right.