Guest Post by Joe Vitollo, Air Force Veteran and Candidate for NY’s 20th Congressional District

The F-35 Lightning II has been in the news quite a bit, especially after some terse tweets from President Trump questioning the 5th generation fighter jet’s cost.  While criticism leveled against the multi-role fighter is really not all that surprising given that there are always growing pains with new technology, I am a firm supporter of the F-35 program.

I learned firsthand during my time in the Air Force that having the right tools and technology is essential to accomplishing a mission and ensuring maximum safety for our combat troops.   I also believe that we must stay ahead of our enemies by developing and producing the very best military hardware.

The F-35, with its flexibility, firepower, stealth and advanced capabilities, is the most technologically advanced, multi-role fighter jet ever developed.  It is exactly what we need to respond to the threats we face in a post 9-11 world and, with three unique versions, will be used by our Air Force, Navy and Marines, as well as many of our key allies.

The F-35 has also come a long way from those early growing pains, and is now considered by the Marines and Air Force to be “combat ready.”   At a recent military combat exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the F-35 pulled off an impressive 20-1 kill ratio, which simply means that for every F-35 lost, it destroyed 20 enemy aircraft.  Don’t take my word on it though, experienced fighter pilots were impressed too:

“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” said Maj. James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot. “It’s pretty cool to come back from a mission where we flew right over threats knowing they could never see us.”

4th generation aircraft, including the F/A – 18 Super Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, A-10 Thunderbolt and others, simply cannot compete with the stealth technology found in the F-35, or even operate effectively in an environment where they are tracked by advanced radar systems.  Most importantly, in a combat engagement, the F-35’s effectiveness dramatically increases the chance that our servicemembers will come back home safe and sound.

As far as costs go, it was good to see President Trump take an active role in helping to lower costs of the F-35’s being produced today.  Moving forward costs will continue to decline and, as long as production continues to ramp up as planned, eventually be on par with the 4th generation aircraft listed above. New technology for the same price as old technology?  That’s a good deal for taxpayers.  It would also be foolish, even dangerous, to scale back production on the F-35 and continue to spend more on older fighter jets with far less capabilities.

As a New Yorker, I can’t ignore or downplay the positive economic benefits of the program either.  Today thousands of men and women, working at over 100 companies throughout the state, are involved in the F-35’s production.  These are good-paying, advanced manufacturing jobs – jobs New York can ill-afford to lose.  The total economic impact on New York state alone is more than 600-million-dollars.  It would be a huge loss to New York if production of the F-35 were to slow down.

There is no doubt, the F-35 is essential for the defense of our nation and a boost to New York’s economy.  It is also vital that the F-35 program has support from the President, members of Congress and taxpayers for it to continue to thrive.