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The Air Force's sky-high hopes for the F-35

Newspaper editorial boards, white-paperists and blue-ribbon panels all have called for the F-35 to be cancelled, but as we've seen many times, it's so big and expensive it stands a very good chance of surviving in Austerity America. Here's another reason to throw on the pile: If you cancelled it, you'd be canceling a lot of the Air Force.

The service's almost complete dependence on its F-35A Lightning II was driven home again last weekend when Gen. Edward Rice, head of Air Education and Training Command, officially 'rolled out' the Air Force's first jet at Eglin AFB, Fla. (The fighters have been around for years, but you know how these guys are -- any excuse for pageantry and ceremony, right?) Rice characterized the A as the absolute zenith of aviation, per an official Air Force story:

The aircraft was developed in a span of only 15 years, one-eighth of the 118 total years powered flight has existed, he said. The F-35 brings advanced technological capabilities for the future and the nation's defense -- something the general explained was clearly unimaginable when Orville and Wilbur Wright performed their maiden flight Dec.17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

"While this celebration is taking place in the Air Force hangar with the Air Force variant of the F-35, this is really a story about the fully integrated team of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, industry and community partners who have been working years to make this day possible," said Col. Andrew Toth, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander. "In fact, Marine Col. Art Tomassetti, my vice, (today's master of ceremonies), and test pilot, has been with this program for more than a decade. So, some of us have been waiting a long time to see this day."

Did you copy that? Even the Wright Brothers could not have conceived of the disruptive, game-changing, fifth-generation warfighting advantages the A will bring. But seriously: All the light blue eggs are in this one basket, as evidenced by the sheer numbers of service members who are going to come through the new facilities at Eglin as the Air Force finally begins fielding As in numbers:
"Eventually about 2,200 maintainers and 100 pilots a year will pass through our schoolhouse doors," Toth said. "In 2014, the program should mature enough to have the Air Force send students fresh from basic training."

Delivery and success of the new program required the Air Force overcome a great number of challenges. It will continue to do so until the F-35 capabilities reach their full potential for the interest of national security, Rice said. "But with all the wonders of technology and the amazing physical performance of the F-35, let me say that none of this happens without magnificent people," he said.

Quite so -- and if those people lose this fighter, or are forced to accept many fewer than now planned, the disruptions across the Air Force could be immense. So service officials really, really, really want everything to go well. Show Full Article

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