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Despite new criticisms, F-35 support office still bound for Wright-Patterson, advocates say

A crew chief assigned to the 158th Maintenance Group prepares an F-35A Lightning II for departure from the Vermont Air National Guard Base, South Burlington, Vt., Jan. 23, 2020.

JULIE M. SHEA/U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD

By THOMAS GNAU | Dayton Daily News | Published: March 24, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Criticism of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter seems to have amped up recently, with pointed comments coming from two members of the House Armed Services Committee.

But others knowledgeable about the plane say the criticisms aren't especially new. They say as well that the plane has a solid future and that Air Force plans to move an F-35 support office from Virginia to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base remain on track.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, this month talked of "scrubbing" programs like the F-35 instead of rewarding "people for failure, not results."

"What does the F-35 give us," Smith said in a Brookings Institution webcast. "Is there a way to cut our losses? Is there a way to not keep spending so much money for such a low capability, because the sustainment costs are brutal."

Rep. John Garamendi, chair of the Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee, had his own criticism, saying: "We're not able to maintain the older ones (F-35s), so the more we buy, the worse the overall performance has been. That is going to stop."

However, plans to move an F-35 management office to Wright- Patterson have not been derailed, said those who spoke with the Dayton Daily News. The office is set to be fully established by fiscal year 2022.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R- Dayton, said his Armed Services Committee colleague Smith actually has a long record of support for the F-35. Turner said Smith has raised concerns about how the F-35 fares against some of the newest capabilities of America's adversaries.

But the program is not imperiled, he said.

"What you will see, both from the Biden administration and from the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee, is a strong commitment for continued acquisition and deployment," Turner said. "Also, you will see support from our allies" for the F-35.

Wright-Patterson's role is not endangered, he emphasized.

"Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will play a critical role in the future acquisition and sustainment of the F-35, both for the United States and our allies," said Turner, who serves as a subcommittee chairman on the House Armed Services Committee and is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The program supporting the F-35 fighter is set to move to Wright- Patterson in the spring of 2022, an Air Force Materiel Command spokesman told the Dayton Daily News in 2019.

Questions about those plans were sent Wednesday to representatives of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright- Patterson. But in 2019, then-Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson confirmed the selection of the local base to host the F-35 Hybrid Product Support Integrator organization. The office has been in Crystal City, Va.

"Wright-Patt's work in aircraft acquisition links our community to the F-35 and made the base a natural fit for the F-35 HPSI program," said Jeff Hoagland, chief executive and president of the Dayton Development Coalition. "We're aware of the discussion regarding the aircraft, but have no reason to believe this would affect the establishment of the F-35 HPSI program on base."

Construction for that new office at Wright- Patterson has begun, Turner's office said Wednesday.

Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight (or POGO), last month released a new analysis of issues that have plagued the F-35.

From the outset, any attempt to produce a plane that was somehow all things to all military branches was flawed, he believes.

About 400 to 500 of these planes have been purchased, Grazier said in an interview. But if the plane had been in full production by now as originally envisioned, that total number of purchases would stand closer to about 2,400, he believes.

"If we had a fleet that size (2,400), it would basically bankrupt the Pentagon," Grazier said.

According to a Government Accountability Office report in 2019, F-35s were unable to fly about 30% of the time due to a lack of spare parts from May to November 2018.

"The F-35 is also DOD's ( Department of Defense's) most costly weapon system, with U.S. sustainment costs estimated at more than $1 trillion over its life cycle," the GAO said then.

However, more than a few pilots have voiced enthusiasm for the F-35, both here and abroad.

"The F-35 absolutely is fun to fly," Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Andy Edgell told Air & Space magazine in 2019. "It's exhilarating because there is so much power."

"In situational awareness, the F-35 is superior to all platforms, including the Raptor," Marine Lt. Col. David "Chip" Berke, the first non-test pilot to fly the F-35, told the same publication. "I'd never been in an airplane that so effectively and seamlessly integrates information to tell me what's going on around me."

Pilots love the F-35, said Turner, who said he has spoken with pilots across the U.S. and the globe about the plane.

"The F-35 has great reviews in operations both from pilots and from military planners," the congressman said. "It is the most capable plane being fielded by any nation."

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