Bipartisan Support for Buying More Fighter Jets

By Jon Harper

Photo: Air Force

Amidst the bickering on Capitol Hill, there’s one thing that key lawmakers from both parties seem to agree on: the United States needs more fighter aircraft.

The fiscal year 2020 national defense authorization bill approved June 27 by the GOP-controlled Senate would authorize $10 billion to procure 94 F-35 joint strike fighters, 16 more than the Trump administration requested. 

The legislation “prioritizes investments that ensure the U.S. military sustains or regains our comparative combat advantage in the current climate of great-power competition, … enabling the forces to modernize and equip themselves with the most advanced and capable fifth-generation aircraft,” a summary of the bill said.

It would also authorize the purchase of a number of fourth-generation aircraft including 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, and eight of the controversial F-15EX fighters that the Trump administration requested.

The House Armed Services Committee's version of the 2020 NDAA would authorize funding for 12 additional F-35As above the administration's request, as well as eight F-15EXs and 24 F/A-18E/Fs.

Meanwhile, the Democrat-led House Appropriations Committee passed a bill in May that would provide $8.7 billion for 90 F-35s, 12 more than the Trump administration requested. It would also provide $1.7 billion for the procurement of 24 Super Hornets and $986 million for eight F-15EXs to recapitalize the F-15C/D fleet.

“The committee recommends this as a reasonable balance between advanced capability and near-term capacity concerns,” the lawmakers’ report on the bill said.

Rick Berger, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Hill staffer, said he wasn’t surprised that committees led by Democrats and Republicans approved purchasing so many fighter aircraft.

“We’ve had strong bipartisan support for, in particular, F-35 for a number of years now,” he said. “We’ve seen officials very successfully over the past four or five years do a really good job in articulating … why stealth matters, why sensor fusion matters, why the fifth-gen capabilities are crucial for the future of air superiority as well as strike.”

Berger said the Air Force has also been successful in persuading lawmakers that aging F-15C/D aircraft need to be replaced by new planes.

Berger sees congressional backing for new fighter jets as a long-term trend.

“I think you’re going to see continued support for high per-year buys [to] get more aircraft on the production line,” he said. “The political support is there for it.”

As of press time, the Senate had not passed a defense appropriations bill for 2020.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story appeared in the July print edition of the magazine. This story has been updated for the web to reflect recent legislative action that occurred since the original story was written.


Topics: Air Power

Comments (2)

Re: Bipartisan Support for Buying More Fighter Jets

If you ever saw F-15Cs on a training exercise, you will notice that they do a lot of "touch-and-go" (launch and land repeatedly) on the runways, all day. The USAF needs the new F-15Xs to do this. It doesn't have the time to repair sensitive and secret finicky stealth coatings for CONUS air defense all the time. The USAF has no time for “Hangar Queens” when it comes time to scramble fighters.
The airpower of the USA is such that its influence is more widespread than almost any other weapon in the world. The USMC should look into buying the F-18E/Fs to replace their C/Ds and the F-35 should definitely have the issue of Max Mach fixed so that it won't harm itself if flying at Mach 1.2 for more than 80 seconds. Some issues with these planes are getting to the point that pilots' lives are at risk, an issue NASA would strongly object to. If the DoD can't resolve these planes’ Showstopper design and engineering issues, bring in NTSB or NASA experts to make recommendations and suggestions to fixes and perhaps contract out through the aeronautical and space engineering industries.

Krashnovians at 9:55 PM
Re: Bipartisan Support for Buying More Fighter Jets

The F-15EX is no replacement for the F-35, but it complements it well. It is a better interceptor for defending our borders day to day due to its higher top speed, even with 4 AAM's it can reach Mach 2. (And the new engines that the F-15EX will be using may increase the top speed a bit more) While the F-35 top speed is Mach 1.6 with or without missiles, both the B and C variants currently have afterburner time limits in place that limit their high speed capability. Also the F-15 is a missile truck that can be used in conjunction with AWAC's, F-35's and any other networked resource to attack the enemy aircraft, whether fighters, bombers, Mainstays or refuelers. Add in the soon to arrive AIM-260 (3 years?) and a stand back, non-stealthy fighter can play a variety of roles.

ZivBnd at 10:16 AM
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