Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday that the F-35 is "not just a better F-18" but a "transformational" aircraft that will change the way the U.S. conducts war.
"The short answer is it's a critical program," Dunford said of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in response to questions at a National Press Club lunch.
"I believe it is not just a better F-18 [Super Hornet] or a better bomb truck," he said, but rather a transformational platform "both in its ability to deliver its ordnance as well as its ability to serve literally as a server in the sky."
"It is going to transform the way we fight," Dunford said, despite well-documented continuing cost overruns and engineering problems that have slowed its deployment.
The general said the cost overruns are less of a problem than they had been.
"Frankly, the cost overruns -- a bit of that is history because over the past 18-24 months, I think people would agree, and Congress certainly, I think, supports this perspective -- that the program manager has done a great job of getting a lot of those cost overruns back in control," he said.
He noted that the vertical takeoff Marine F-35B variant was declared operationally capable in July 2015 on his watch in his previous post as Marine Corps commandant. It was the first F-35 squadron declared "capable of worldwide deployment, and it has subsequently since deployed," he said.
The F-35 will be a main feature for the U.S. at the Paris Air Show this week, as the U.S. attempts to give NATO allies confidence in the aircraft's future role in the defense of the alliance.
Two of the Air Force's F-35A version are part of the U.S. contingent at the biennial air show, along with a CV-22 Osprey, a C-130J Super Hercules, a P-8 Poseidon, a CH-47 Chinook, an AH-64 Apache, two F-16 Fighting Falcons, and a KC-135R Stratotanker.
"The impact of air superiority provided by our F-35s is integral to supporting our warfighters and NATO allies," Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said in a statement. "Showcasing our cutting-edge aircraft technology is one of many ways we ensure ready forces while deterring threats from the outset."