Two decades and three presidents after development of what was once called the Joint Strike Fighter commenced, the F-35 fighter is looking like a success. Three variants tailored to the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have met all of their performance objectives. A test program consisting of over 9,000 separate flights has been completed without a single major mishap. Prices for the airframe and engine are falling in each successive production lot. And allies are clamoring to buy the plane.
Nobody needs the F-35 more than the Air Force, which today is operating the oldest combat fleet in its history. Most of the fighters in that fleet were designed long before words like “stealthy” or “digital” became commonplace in military parlance. With U.S. strategy shifting to an emphasis on great-power competition, the ability of these legacy aircraft to survive in airspace near Russia and China is increasingly being questioned.
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