As a 6th-Gen stealth fighter jet bursts into the air and explodes onto the scene, many have raised the question as to whether the emergence of a new platform such as this impacts or even imperil plans for the F-35?
The short answer is simple. No, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, who told reporters at the 2021 Air Force Association Symposium that the service intends to stay the course with its current plan to buy 1,763 F-35s.
“Right now the number we want is the number we have already laid out. I want to make sure we have the right capability and can continue to buy the 1,763. The intent is to continue with the numbers we have laid out and we are using the study to figure out how best to get there,” Brown said.
In fact, Brown said it was necessary to accelerate production and generate a “spike” in F-35 production to help ensure larger numbers of airplanes arrive on a sooner timeframe. At the current production rate of between 48 and 60 new builds per month, it may take until the 2060s for all planned F-35s to arrive, something Brown said he was planning to talk to industry about in order to explore a potential acceleration.
“At the rate we are buying, it will take you too long to get there. We are hoping to accelerate the rate to a higher number because to get there faster we are going to need to have a spike,” Brown said.
Brown also stressed that the advent of a new 6th Gen fighter will not imperil the future of the F-35 but rather simply add new options. “We are not going to take money from the F-35 for NGAD (6th Gen - Next Generation Air Dominance). We will take money from other parts of the fighter force. We want to keep the F-35 on track. Part of why we are doing the study is to make sure we don’t have a capability gap as we bring down the older aircraft. We are looking at the entire force and not just NGAD,” Brown explained.
Many of these questions are the focus of an ongoing Air Force TACAIR study currently examining the F-35, F-22, A-10, and F-15EX, among other things, with a mind to how best to optimize the fleet for the future.
“We are looking at what complements the F-35 looking 10 to 15 years from now. Do I have the future design to see where we think we need to go. What complements the F-35 10 to 15 years out? What will the Air Force look like 15 years from now. We are not just looking at Air Force fighter capabilities but what other services have as well to better understand where we are as we have discussions on future budgets,” Brown said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.