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The F-35 - What it means for our nation

Sometime in the next 10-15 years, the F-35 Lightning II, more popularly known as the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, will begin replacing the F-16, A-10, and early models of the F/A-18 Hornet naval strike fighter (excluding the F/A-18E and F/A-18F). However, in this era of declining defense budgets, the Lightning II may suffer a cancellation similar to that of the F/A-22 Raptor jet.

JSF is scheduled to begin deployment around 2012, when the U.S. Marine Corps will take delivery of the first JSF aircraft. Many states, including Iowa, stand to receive the JSF when it achieves IOC (Initial Operational Capability) around 2016. Cancellation of the JSF would deprive these states and services of not only a top-of-the-line multi-role stealth aircraft, but the billions of support dollars for equipment, weapons, simulators, and other necessities for a high tech program of this magnitude.

But, opponents of the JSF argue, aren't the current aircraft (F-16, F/A-18, and A-10) good enough? Currently, yes. However, each of these aircraft is approaching 30 years of age, which, as most engineers will explain, is nearing the end of active service life for any aircraft, specifically one that can potentially face the rigors of high-speed, high-G maneuvering, associated with aerial combat. Additionally, in an era of hyper-accurate GPS and satellite-guided munitions, numerous weapons are not necessarily needed to take out a specific target - the era of "one bomb, one kill" has arrived, and even small weapons packages like those carried in the weapons bays of an F-35 can be devastating to specified targets selected by any JFACC (Joint Forces Air Component Commander), or the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff).

The F-35 will have capabilities no other aircraft in the world, with the exception of the F/A-22, has. First, like the Raptor, the JSF will be a stealth aircraft, thereby rendering it nearly invisible to radar and air defense systems. There will be technology to mask its infrared signature, also, rendering the F-35 nearly undetectable by systems such as the IRSTS, or Infrared Search & Track System, employed by MiG-29 fighters. JSF will also presumably employ some form of LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) radar, meaning that radar emissions from the JSF will be more difficult to detect on current and future aircraft early warning systems.

Opponents will also argue that the United States military does not need an aircraft like the JSF. They argue that it is an aircraft designed for Cold War-era dogfighting, much like the criticism that eventually cancelled the F/A-22 Raptor. However, this criticism is met by simply stating that Russia's main fighter-design bureaus, Mikoyan-Gurevich and Sukhoi, are continuing to research and develop aircraft that are equal if not superior to every aircraft the United States currently has in its arsenal. For example, the MiG-35, currently under development and production, is superior to both the F-15 and F-16, and almost on par with the F-22. As these aircraft are developed, Russia will surely sell them to client states such as Iran and North Korea, both of which could develop into future conflict areas for the U.S. and her allies. One of the first objectives of any military air campaign is achieving air dominance, which is made more difficult if pilots are fighting on equal terms. If war should break out in the future against Iran or North Korea, the United States would be ill-advised to send its pilots into potential aerial combat without equipping them with the best aircraft and technology possible.


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