Back in November, the East Valley Tribune and Ahwatukee Foothill News published an op-ed that I wrote in support of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In that op-ed, I noted the critical importance the F-35 program plays to the national security of the United States. After meeting with Arizonians who are involved in the F-35’s development, I learned of their concern over program cuts and the unforeseen consequences that may result from debate over program reductions. For the sake of our national and economic security, these conversations need to stop.
The F-35 is America’s next fifth-generation, multi-role fighter that our military leaders have designated to replace our military’s current arsenal of ageing F-16 and F-18 fighters. The F-35 is a pragmatic approach to modernizing America’s air superiority by using the same platform to serve the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The highly advanced capabilities of the F-35 will provide out troops in the air, sea and land with the technology and situational awareness to get the job done and safely return home.
A recent program update proves that 2011 was a banner year for the program. Of the 872 test flights and 6,622 test points the F-35 was to endure in 2011, the program surpassed those goals by flying 972 test flights and completing 7,823 test points. These flights and test points ensure that the plane is strong and reliable through hundreds of challenging scenarios. The results prove that the F-35 program is maturing faster than anticipated – which is a good problem to have when working with advanced military technology.
Despite these overachievements, we have seen a lot of change in America’s political landscape. Most significantly, the deficit reducing “supercommittee” failed, forcing $600 billion in mandatory cuts from Department of Defense programs. During negotiations leading up to the supercommittee, there was a groundswell of support for full program funding and members of the committee were prepared to defend the F-35 because they recognized it’s importance to America.
Unfortunately, because the committee failed, the program is once again under debate. As evidence, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently confirmed that he aims to cut Defense Department spending on next generation weapons programs which could include the F-35. While no one believes that the F-35 will be cancelled, small businesses right here in Arizona are watching closely to see if the Pentagon will uphold their commitment to program funding, since the small business community has capitalized their production lines in anticipation of program growth.
The bottom-line is that we cannot allow political expedience to dampen the progress of the F-35. The program is deeply connected to our economy and cuts would send ripple effects across a nation. The programs suppliers, consisting of 1,300 independent companies across the United States and supporting 127,000 jobs, have the most to lose. If those parts are no longer needed in the quantities that were originally requested, then those suppliers will be unable to meet payroll and the rising jobless claim rates in the United States will see a significant uptick.
The security of our nation and the protection of our troops are important to all of us. It is our job to ensure that the men and women in the armed services are armed with globally superior technology and protection. America’s ingenuity and industrial infrastructure can deliver that superiority, and we Americans can make sure that the program and our troops are fully supported. The F-35 is not just a budget line item. It is a line item that represents real people and business, and we need to let our elected officials in Washington know that we support the F-35.
Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers, USAF (retired) was one of the first 100 women pilots in today’s Air Force. In 2010, she ran and narrowly lost a bid for the Arizona State Senate in Democrat-leaning Legislative District 17. She owns and operates a Tempe-based office complex as well as a home inspection business with 10 fulltime employees operating in four counties. Lt Col Rogers and her retired Air Force husband have two adult ASU-grad children and live in Arizona’s brand new Congressional District 9.