The F-35 Lightning II, the U.S. military’s advanced new fighter, brings cutting-edge technology and advancements to the table for both shoot- ing down other aircraft and ground attack missions. How- ever, it has also faced criticism and been plagued by cost over- runs and delays.
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike fighter is a multi-variant, fifth generation fighter. It has the agility and speed of a fighter, but all of the cloaking abilities of a stealth craft along with sensor and detection technologies. These qualities give the aircraft the ability to detect and engage targets before the targets know the F-35 is present.
Another benefit of the F-35 is that the Air Force, Navy and Marines can all use the F-35 and it could potentially replace multiple aircraft types in each branch. This is a perk of the F-35’s multi-role nature which allows it to engage air and ground targets with great effect.
However, with a cost be- tween $90 million and $115 million per unit — depending on variant — and $1.5 trillion in funding over the course of the 55 years the program is expected to last, the F-35 is the most expensive weapon ever built by the United States, according to Avionics International.
Although it costs a large sum of money, fewer of these aircraft are needed to engage targets than in the past because of the improvements in technology.
This means that fewer aircraft types will be fielded, which means the government will be spending a similar amount of money on fewer air- craft. However, the new ones will be just as effective as the larger fleets of the past.
Ryan Beck, sophomore aviation flight major and aspiring Army pilot, said he is willing to pay for the fighter as it is necessary for national security.
“It has to happen. It’s a program that works. It will provide the nation with a fighter that will protect its people,” Beck said.
Joseph Angel, senior aviation flight major, said he was skeptical but still in favor of his tax dollars going to the F-35.
“If it is more advanced and helps the United States gain an advantage, it is worth it — with- in reason — to do it,” Angel said.
Another concern is the F-35 project’s continued delays. F-35s are being used by the United States, Israel, Japan and other nations; however, they are not fully combat-ready be- cause they require updated systems and software.
On the plus side, the older F-35s can easily be brought up to the latest specs. While deadlines continue to be overshot, it seems likely that the F-35 will deploy in mid-2019.
While the F-35 design process has been slow and plagued with issues, its capabilities will allow the United States to maintain force parody with its rivals. This is best stated by Dr. John Marselus, professor and chair of aviation science and a retired Air Force pilot.
“We are facing far greater capabilities from possible adversaries than we did years ago. It is important for our forces to have an advantage, and the F-35 provides that advantage we need today,” Marselus said.
Not only is the F-35 needed to keep pace with other countries in fighter technology, but also will give the U.S. military the edge in stealth, information sharing and performance that it needs to stay on top in any conflict with advanced foreign powers.