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  (Source: Lockheed Martin)
Advancing enemy systems may mean F-35 isn't the best aircraft for the job

Over a decade ago when aircraft designers first sat down to design the F-35 Lightning II, the needs that were envisioned for the future were designed into the aircraft. Now that the program has aged, some believe that the needs of the modern battlefield may be better served by other aircraft and equipment.

The F-35 program has been plagued with delays and cost overruns. The DOD has stated that the total cost of the F-35 program could stretch into the $382 billion range. Despite the delays, the F-35 program has met some significant milestones over the last few months. One of these milestones was the F-35B variant designed for STOVL operations breaking the sound barrier for the first time.

The future of the F-35 program is still murky with 
Defense News reporting that some in the Obama administration believe that the military needs to reconsider its massive 2,500 unit F-35 fleet plans. The reason, according to the officials, is that the potential enemies to the U.S. like China have developed much more advanced and sophisticated radar and missile systems. These more sophisticated systems may mean that the F-35 is less valuable in a combat situation that it was originally intended to be and the huge amount of money to be spent on the project may be better spent on other aircraft and equipment.

Exactly what to do with the F-35 program is being closely studied as part of two internal Pentagon studies. One study is looking at the global posture of the military as a whole and the other is looking at how the military will be able to best conduct long-range strikes.

The issue of the cost of the F-35 program is also being closely considered. A study by CSBA's Todd Harrison notes that the budget set by the Pentagon for 2011 "does little to control rising personnel costs for both DoD civilians and military personnel."

The study notes that new benefits for healthcare for current and retired military personnel are increasing above the rate of inflation and to reduce the national deficit the Pentagon may be forced to choose to fund healthcare for military personnel or invest in new equipment such as the F-35.

Harrison wrote, "It can also be viewed as an intergenerational question-a choice between funding pay and benefits for today's military (and retirees) or funding the equipment and training needed for those who will fight tomorrow's wars. The fiscal reality is that in a flat or declining budgetary environment, the Department will not be able to fund both to the same extent that it does today."





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