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F-35 is backbone of Air Force's future fighter fleet, Welsh says

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AFNS) -- The Air Force's most advanced strike aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II, is a vital capability that the nation needs to stay ahead of adversary technological gains, the Air Force chief of staff told a Senate panel here, June 19.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said air superiority is critical to the nation's security and how the U.S. military plans to fight.

"The air superiority this nation has enjoyed for 60 years is not an accident and gaining and maintaining it is not easy," Welsh said. "It requires trained proficient and ready Airmen and it requires credible, capable and technologically superior aircraft. I believe the F-35 is essential to ensuring we can provide that air superiority in the future."

The F-35 is an unprecedented fifth generation fighter combining stealth technology with fighter speed and agility, fully integrated sensors and network enabled operations, and state-of-the-art avionics. However, design issues and production costs have put the F-35 program in real jeopardy.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall told the committee he believe those concerns have been addressed.

"The department's and my focus has been on the efforts to control costs on the program, and to achieve a more stable design so that we could increase the production rate to more economical quantities," Kendall testified. "Indications at this time are that these efforts are succeeding."

The Air Force intends to use a portion of the proposed fiscal 2014 budget to support current defense strategic guidance and modernization programs like the F-35.

"Potential adversaries are acquiring fighters on par with or better than our legacy fourth generation fleet," Welsh told the committee. "They're developing sophisticated early warning radar systems and employing better surface to air missile systems, and this at a time when our fighter fleet numbers about 2,000 aircraft and averages a little over 23 years of age -- the smallest and the oldest in the Air Force's history."

Welsh said America needs the F-35 to stay a step ahead and to "make sure the future fight is an away game and to minimize our risk to our ground forces when conflict inevitably does occur."

"The F-35 is the only real, viable option to form the backbone of our future fighter fleet," he said. "The F-35 remains the best platform to address the proliferation of highly capable integrated air defenses and new air-to-air threats."
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