President-Elect Trump's recent announcement that he is considering acquiring the F/A-18 Super Hornet in place of the F-35 Lightning II does not add up for a leader who seeks "to make America great again." While the President-Elect's concerns regarding the cost of weapons procurement is wholly valid, such decisions must be weighed in the context of current security demands.
Air supremacy, the mission fulfilled by the fighter planes, plays a pivotal role in warfare. Without control of the sky, no military operation can succeed. Planes like the F-35 represent the lynchpin on which ground power, sea power, and airpower can effectively engage. Want proof of this? Simply look at June 6, 1944, D-Day. By controlling the sky, the Allies were able launch a decisive invasion on the beaches of France that effectively sealed Nazi Germany's fate. This effort would never have worked had the landing forces been subject to robust enemy air strikes or had Rommel's panzer reinforcements been free to race to the beaches on road and rail networks undamaged by Allied air attack.
However, America's ability to control the sky currently stands at risk. The majority of the fighter aircraft serving with the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are 1960s and 1970s-era designs. Enemy nations have invested considerable sums in their defensive capabilities － better radars, better missiles, better computers, command, & control － which means that planes like the F/A-18 are likely to get shot down in a conflict.
That is why Presidents on both sides of the aisle, Congress, and service leaders have pursued the F-35 for nearly two decades. Over those years, the program has made some costly stumbles － but no acquisition program is perfect, and the larger they are, the more problems they have. Nevertheless, today the F-35 is on track to provide a huge capability for a comparatively reasonable price: $85M by 2019.
It is also crucial to recognize that the F-35 doesn't just do the same things better : It does things the legacy fighters just can't do at all. First and foremost, planes like the F/A-18 will never be very stealthy because their designs were never built to evade radar, as evident in their shapes, construction materials, or avionics. Modernization cannot fix this problem: Stealth has to be built into a design from day one.
Failing to build a modern, capable military invites our enemies to pursue aggressive action. It is no mistake that China is pushing the boundaries in the Pacific and Russia is destabilizing neighboring regions: They sense the US is weak and are taking advantage of the situation.
Is it a good idea to try and get best value from a contract negotiation? Of course. However, it's also crucial to buy capabilities that are capable of fighting effectively and winning. The F-35 is the only fighter currently in production in the United States that can do the job.