This summer the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort will welcome its first squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, with more to come, underscoring South Carolina’s role as a leader in our nation’s defense.
Patriotic South Carolinians should be proud that the Palmetto State has one of the first bases in the country to host the most technologically advanced stealth strike fighter. While the Russians and Chinese are developing their own next-generation fighters, America’s is being deployed right here in our state. The F-35 is critical to our national security and ability to defeat future threats.
The F-35 program was designed to provide our armed services with the capabilities they need at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayers. As Department of Defense leaders looked at the number of aging and outdated jets they needed to replace across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, they realized the most affordable option was to design three variations of the same aircraft, tailored to the needs of each branch. This avoided the enormous expense of having three separate development programs and allowed the government to capture economies of scale.
The F-35 will bring our state an influx of pilots, maintenance staff, contractor support staff and visiting military and civilian personnel. Nearly 1,000 new pilots and other military personnel will provide a direct economic benefit to our communities and businesses. And our growing aerospace supplier base, already robust because of the presence of industry leaders such as Boeing, could find new opportunities to supply parts to the U.S. military.
Some critics have argued that the F-35 is too expensive, but unit costs have been reduced by more than 50 percent over the past five years, and the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee actually increased funding to purchase four jets more than the 34 requested by the administration. The Pentagon and Congress clearly understand that increasing production this year is critical to future cost-reduction efforts and meeting potential threats to our nation.
Military analyst Loren Thompson says the program reached a turning point last year when “Technical risks were retired. Flight testing progressed rapidly. The price-tag for each plane continued declining.”
The F-35 is a tribute to American ingenuity. It is the key to our future air superiority in a world that is becoming more and more dangerous. We should all be proud that South Carolina soon will be home to the most advanced stealth strike fighter in the world.
S.C. Sen. John Courson