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After a decade and a half of actively fighting terrorism around the globe while simultaneously imposing tighter and tighter budget squeezes, our military faces clear and unmistakable shortages in critical systems like ready-to-deploy fighter jets. These gaps grow larger and larger with each passing year and in the near future become alarming. As our fleets age, more and more, air craft carrier groups and squadrons are running short of planes. Media reports of cannibalized aircraft in museums to keep military aircraft in the air are not comforting. We cannot continually choke our military and hope to defend ourselves against ever increasing threats.
The Trump Administration has correctly identified the need to rebuild and strengthen our defenses. And they have shown an interest in getting the job done “on time and under budget.” That too is an important focus. The good news is it that we can rebuild our military and give our war fighters the best tools and systems on the planet and “come in on time and under budget.”
Here is one way we can do both — reinforce our military and be mindful of the taxpayer’s wallet. While we need a next generation stealth fighter with capabilities like the F-35, an effective air defense needs a wide variety of tools with varying capabilities and not all of them must cost nearly $132 billion each. We may see all fighter jets as being just like the other ones — super fast, super maneuverable jets that shoot and bomb things. But the truth is there are different missions and different missions and roles for different planes and they are not all the same.
For example, someone who doesn’t understand the game of football may think it’s merely a bunch of big guys running around shoving and tackling each other. Baseball, if not understood, can look like a disorganized game of catch with a lot of unnecessary extras. To the untrained eye, hockey looks like a bunch of guys skating around and chasing a piece of black rubber. But the informed sports fan realizes that the team has different players with different skills at different positions and they are all needed to make the team successful. No good football team is comprised solely of quarterbacks. In baseball, you can’t just have hitters. You get the idea.
The same is true of building an effective air defense. We must have planes designed to perform different missions and have different capabilities. We don’t need an air force of solely F-35s. In fact an Air Force or Navy that only flew F-35 wouldn’t be as capable as an Air Force and Navy that flew a fleet of planes that included F-35s and other planes with varied capabilities such as the F-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Eagle. Everyone understands why the typical NFL team doesn’t fill its roster with only high priced quarterbacks. We need to apply this lesson to our air defenses. This approach has the added benefit of saving the taxpayers money.
The first step is to deal with the immediate problem. We have a huge number of F-15s have many thousands of hours of usable service life by investing a small fraction of the cost of a new plan in basic refurbishment. This service life extension will enable them to defend us for another 12 to 15 years. For about a million dollars per plane, you get another decade and a half of life out of a very capable fighter jet.
It may be useful to understand what the F-15 Eagle does. It is an extremely maneuverable, air superiority fighter designed to maintain air supremacy over any battlefield and to defend the homeland. It can operate in any weather, and it has an impressive mix of maneuverability, advanced radar, range, avionics, and weapons payload. It is hard to beat its air-to-air combat record — with 104 kills and zero losses.
Step two is to build the next generation F-15. You take a proven fighter — the current F-15 and incorporate the latest technologies including advanced sensors, sensor fusion, and the most advanced cockpit and mission computers resulting in an advanced F-15 that can defend America well into the second half of this century. The resulting advanced fighter jet would have the ability to perform multiple missions and roles, carry an unmatched volume of weapons and provide compliment to the capabilities of the F-35 — all at a low cost.
The next generation F-15 is a worthy and complimentary teammate to the high tech F-35 and it comes at a comparatively bargain price for the USAF. A new-build F-15 in many ways is the Ford Mustang to Henry Ford’s old Model T. Sure they’re both Fords, but they are not the same vehicle. Likewise, they may both be F-15s, but they really are not the same plane. And you have the added benefit of not breaking the bank.
The Trump Administration is right to focus on rebuilding our military and they are right to focus on finding ways to complete projects “on time and under budget.” A new F-15 is a perfect match to meeting both goals.
If the Trump Administration is serious about both goals, and it appears they are, a new F-15 will become an important part of their plan to rebuild our nation’s military and reinforce our defensive capabilities, while giving our war fighters the best and most advanced tools and systems so that they have every advantage, and at the same time give the taxpayers a financial break.