Magazine | February 11, 2019, Issue


(Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Daniel E. Gheesling/Released)

The Fighter Fight

Jerry Hendrix’s essay on Air Force priorities, “How The Air Force Lost Its Way” (January 28), takes a fatal turn in its final paragraphs, suggesting that the service pay for more new bombers by purchasing fewer new fighters.

The fighters he is referring to are F-35 multirole aircraft being bought to meet the future tactical requirements of three U.S. military services and a dozen overseas allies. Any cut in the size of the Air Force purchase at this late date — 18 years after development began — would inevitably raise the price being paid by all the other users.

Beyond that, the F-35 has just completed the most comprehensive flight-test program in history, demonstrating that it is far more cost-effective than legacy tactical aircraft at securing air space, suppressing enemy defenses, and collecting intelligence.

The F-35 is vital to the survival of the U.S. Army in a future European conflict and to the survival of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in a future Pacific conflict. The Marine Corps is counting on it for future amphibious operations.

Hendrix is right that the Air Force needs more modern bombers than are currently planned. But he needs to look elsewhere for a bill-payer.

Loren Thompson
Arlington, Va.

Jerry Hendrix responds: Mr. Thompson, a longtime supporter of the F-35 program, raises serious and logical arguments with respect to one aspect of my essay. It would be easy to accept his critique and simply argue that the defense budget should be increased to absorb the additional costs associated with an expanded bomber-acquisition program, especially as I would agree that the defense budget needs to be expanded: by 5 percent each year, in fact, to allow the nation to address the challenges of the great-power competition it finds itself in owing to its strategic short-sightedness.

However, my essay was intended to trigger the very debate that Thompson has entered: Is the Air Force’s structure properly aligned to the nation’s national-security and national-defense strategies? I believe that it currently places too much emphasis on short-legged tactical aircraft that do not have the range to get to their intended targets in modern anti-access/area-denial environments, where tankers that could refuel them cannot go because of their large radar signatures. The Office of the Secretary of Defense should undertake an assessment of the Air Force’s platform composition to ensure that its force structure matches the balance of missions the nation requires it to execute.

I thank Mr. Thompson for his respectful and ever-informed critique but disagree with his conclusion.


“Shalt Thou” (John J. Miller, January 28) referred to “Jacob” as owning a “fancy coat.” In fact, the sartorially sophisticated individual was Joseph.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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