There is no denying that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has its share of detractors who have criticized the cost of the program—despite the fact that its manufacturer has worked to reduce the costs of the aircraft. In fact, when assessing the cost of the program, it is important to note that the total price tag is actually spaced out through the 2070s. As has been repeatedly noted, the pilots who will likely be flying the aircraft in its final years certainly haven’t been born yet and, in many cases, neither have their parents!
This week the F-35 received some notable support, and it wasn’t from those who have flown the aircraft, but rather from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).
In a letter sent to the White House, the top aerospace workers union has sought to throw its support behind the Joint Strike Fighter amid the ongoing debate as to whether the Department of Defense (DoD) should buy fewer of the fifth-generation stealth fighter as part of a cost savings move. In the letter, which was obtained and published by Politico on Wednesday, IAM President Robert Martinez warned that even a potential reduction in F-35 purchases could have an impact on the defense industrial base as well as jobs in the aerospace sector.
“The F-35 program strengthens national security, enhances global partnerships and powers economic growth,” Martinez wrote. “We are proud to represent workers across the country who produce, deliver, maintain and support this critical defense program. From production workers in Ft. Worth, to suppliers in every state, to maintenance depot from coast to coast; the F-35 program creates high-quality Machinists Union jobs.”
It wasn’t just about “jobs” for Martinez either, and IAM went on to praise the aircraft.
“The F-35 is the most advanced fighter aircraft the world has ever known. It is the only 5th Generation aircraft in production, and it is absolutely indispensable in the effort to recapitalize U.S. fighter fleets and those of our allied partners,” Martinez added.
He noted that thanks to sustained investment as well as continued commitment to the program, the cost per F-35 aircraft has been reduced dramatically and is expected to fall. “The program is currently focused on lowering the costs to operate and support the aircraft while also working to ensure investment in modernization to keep it relevant and viable for decades to come.”
Martinez also noted that while the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most capable fighter to date, it also remains a huge driver of economic growth. There are currently more than 1,800 first tier suppliers in forty-eight states as well as Puerto Rico, and it drives more than $49 billion in economic activity annually.
“The program supports more than 254,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country,” explained Martinez. “These are high-quality, high-skilled jobs that would be nearly impossible to replace if they were to disappear.”
The IAM president requested a meeting with Steve Ricchetti, who currently serves as counselor to the president, and Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, to further outline the importance of the program.
Martinez was not the only one to praise the aircraft this week. During a House Armed Services hearing on the Indo-Pacific region on Wednesday, Admiral Phil Davidson, commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, told lawmakers that the F-35—along with the F-22 Raptor—was “critical to any future warfighting we might have in the theater.”
Supporters of the program have echoed Davidson’s opinion that the F-35 would be needed in any potential conflict with a near peer adversary, notably China.
“To go backwards into fourth generation capability as a substitute broadly would be a mistake, in my view, and would actually put us at a severe disadvantage over the course of this decade” Davidson told Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a co-chair of the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.