“Picture this,” writes Rebecca Grant in a column for The Hill blog. “You are flying combat air patrol near the South China Sea in the 2020s. Suddenly your GPS goes out. Your favorite datalink to other aircraft and ships floods with confusing signals. Your cockpit radar is a grey blur. The air operations center drops offline in a cyber attack.”
In this first-wave information attack, brought to you by cyberspace strikes, megawatt power jamming, fried satellite communications and disruption of networks, you are blind and confused.
Unless you’re flying the F-35: the only aircraft capable of dealing with such attacks.
Yet despite its stealth and tactical prowess, this 5th generation Joint Strike Fighter is first on the chopping block when talking budget cuts. The F-35 costs a lot, critics say, so cutting there will spare us more.
Grant argues deftly against such logic.
“What’s clear right now is the F-35 is not a short-term fix for deficit reduction or the sequester impasse,” she write. “But what is equally clear is that if the U.S hopes to prevail on the battlefield of the not-too-distant future, the F-35 should be fully funded.”
Florida’s Eglin Air Force base has the first operational F-35 squadron, and pilots vie for the change to train in its cockpit. This same excitement is growing overseas: last week, the F-35B earned wide praise from British pilots during developmental testing.
“Just flying F-35 is the highlight of my career,” said Royal Air Force Sqdn. Ldr. Jim Schofield. “I’m very excited about what [the F-35] is going to bring the U.K. and all the partner nations in terms of capability.”
To Grant, there has been a failure by Pentagon leaders to connect this excitement in the air to excitement on the ground.
“Chatter about deep cuts to the F-35 continues even as the program has stabilized and production costs are coming down,” she writes. “It’s alarming because it suggests Pentagon leaders still have not fully connected with taxpayers and lawmakers as to why and how the F-35 is vital to national security.”
When talking about the F-35, an “ounce of prevention” may come at a price tag of $100 million, but in terms of national security, the resulting “pound” is priceless.