A visit to Okaloosa County’s Eglin Air Force Base converted Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey from ambivalent to sold on the F-35 fighter program — a development that follows a series of bright signs for the future of this massively impressive stealth multirole aircraft.
Last week Dempsey told the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was “open-minded” on the fate of the beleaguered F-35; yet according to a post by Dr. Loren Thompson, he became an advocate of the program after a conversation with a Marine officer running one of the first operational squadrons at Eglin.
“We haven’t been attacked from the air since April 15, 1953,” Dempsey said, referring to the last time US ground troops were killed by enemy aircraft, “And I’m not going to be the chairman on whose watch that’s reversed.”
The F-35 comes as the latest installment, and perhaps the centerpiece, of a multi-generational effort to assure US air dominance. It is sleek, nearly invisible to radar, and can reach 1.6 times the speed of sound. It is adaptable for vertical takeoff and landing, and will be adopted by the US Air Force, Navy and Marines, and many US allies.
Dempsey’s support of the F-35 is tandem to indications from senior Pentagon officials that they intend to protect the program in the budget process.