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NEWS | March 29, 2006

JSF program crucial to future air dominance

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez Air Force Print News

Keeping the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program on track is important because the Air Force needs to replace aging aircraft, and it is an important complement to the F-22A Raptor aircraft. That Capitol Hill testimony came March 16 from Lt. Gen. Carrol H. “Howie” Chandler, deputy chief of staff for Air Force air, space, and information operations, plans and requirements.

“The Air Force has been successful with what we call the high/low mix,” the general said. “The F-15, for example, is high end. (It has) fewer numbers and is more expensive because of its capabilities. The F-16 is the low end of the mix -- more affordable, more numbers, optimized for air-to-ground vice the air-to-air mission of the F-15.”

The general told members of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces that the Air Force meant for there to be a similar relationship between the F-22A and the F-35 aircraft -- “fifth generation” fighters.

“The two are very complementary to each other because of the optimization of the F-22A for air-to-air (combat), and its ability to suppress or defeat enemy air defenses. The Joint Strike Fighter is optimized for air-to-surface and its ability to strike hard ... (with the) persistent numbers that we would like to buy of the aircraft,” he said. “It is important to us.”

General Chandler also said aging aircraft are a reason to push forward with the JSF program. The new aircraft will relieve the increasing cost of maintaining an older fleet, while at the same time bring new capabilities to the Air Force.

“As we attempt to maintain the aging fleet that we have today -- as you know that becomes expensive,” he said. “We are able to sustain high mission-capable rates today because of the young men and women maintaining those aircraft. As the aircraft get older ... they are going to have to work harder to make those airplanes fly at the same rate.”

As part of the fiscal 2007 president’s budget, the Air Force recommends termination of the Joint Strike Fighter F-136 engine development program.

General Chandler said the cancellation will provide cost savings through fiscal 2011. The program was meant to provide a mixed engine to the F-35 fleet, with F-136 engines from one manufacturer and F-135 engines from another.

In written testimony, the general said the Department of Defense concluded that a single engine supplier provides the best balance of risk and cost based upon recent experience with engine development for the F-22A and F/A-18 E/F. He said the current F-135 engine continues to meet JSF performance requirements, but conceded that in the past, the Air Force has had success with maintaining two engines for one airframe.

“That success ... stems primarily to contractor performance -- the contractor performed better under competition,” he said. “And, there were fleet operations issues, in that you were buying an insurance policy against a mass grounding of the fleet.”

That “insurance policy” came at a cost, however. The general said the Air Force feels the costs are not worth the benefit to the Air Force to have a fleet of aircraft with different, competing engines.

“You pay for that insurance policy in terms of additional supply lines and additional training for your people,” he said.