Although President Calvin Coolidge was not an expert on air power, his famous quote, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence,” should be studied and practiced today by leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Air Force.
The OSD’s decision to renege on the Air Force goal of procuring only fifth-generation F-35A fighters and, instead, budget for new fourth-generation F-15Xs in the Air Force budget shows both a lack of persistence and sound logic.
It also weakens Air Force support to grow its fighter force and obtain a healthy return on its large F-35A investment, and it adds to the growing list of new programs the Air Force must fund.
In just six months the Air Force appears to have changed its modernization priorities. At the Air Force Association convention in September 2018, Secretary Heather Wilson announced the goal of expanding the force size from 312 to 386 operational squadrons that included seven new fighter squadrons. There was no mention of ever buying new fourth-generation fighters — only the F-35A.
But now we learn that OSD is the driver in the F-15X decision….
The Air Force is attempting to rationalize the OSD decision by criticizing the sustainment costs of the F-35A and invoking the term “increased capacity” with the F-15X. F-35A sustainment has growing pains like any new weapon system. They will come down over time. The Air Force has not defined “increased capacity,” but no amount of capacity can overcome an inability to penetrate modern defenses and destroy high-value targets — severe limitations of the F-15X.
Air Force leaders have a chance to practice Coolidge’s admonition about persistence by finding a way to increase F-35A annual production so it can reach their goal of an all-stealthy fighter force necessary to deal with the modern threats fielded by great power competitors. They cannot achieve this goal buying new, non-stealthy fighters at the expense of F-35As.
Gen. John Michael Loh (ret.) served as the U.S. Air Force vice chief of staff and the commander of Air Combat Command.
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