By PERRY HOOPER, JR.
The future of Dannelly Field, the living history of the Tuskegee Airmen and the growing military economy in our Montgomery community are all tied to the future of the F-35 Lightning II, the world’s most advanced military fighter jet.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to thank Vice President Mike Pence for his strong support of the military, the decision to base an F-35 squadron in Montgomery, and his son’s commitment to the U.S. military as Michael, a Marine Corps pilot, will soon fly the F-35.
The future of the F-35 appears strong. After President Trump and Marillyn Hewson, CEO of F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, reached a deal on the cost of the world’s only fifth generation fighter last year, the ramp-up on production has stayed on track. This increased production of F-35s will ensure that we get our F-35 squadron at Dannelly on time.
Under Congressional legislation and agreements with the Department of Defense, including the $22.7 billion funding discussion announced last week on undefinitized contract action, the F-35 program has reached significant milestones to reduce costs and demonstrate increased program maturity.
Against this backdrop, it is nearly impossible to digest the recent revelations that the F-35 program, its strong successes and healthy economic model, is under threat from bureaucrats at the Pentagon who want the military services to buy 1970s era F-15s instead of F-35s.
Who would want to send their sons and daughters into battle in our dangerous world with an old airplane, instead of the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet? Don’t patriotic American taxpayers want the best for our men and women in uniform.
The Fourth Generation F-15 can never be an F-35, because F-35 capabilities cannot be added to an old F-15 airplane. As a Fifth Generation fighter the F-35 is built with a stealthy structure, advanced avionics, and a helmet with a 365 degree view. It is an engineering marvel, and while predicted to cost less than $80 million in 2020, it is also less costly than the F-15.
To me, this seems inconsistent with President Trump’s ongoing praise of the F-35. In July, the President praised the F-35 program, telling CEO Hewson, “Good job.” In March, our Commander in Chief said, “we buy billions and billions of dollars worth of that beautiful F-35. It’s stealth. You cannot see it.”
In Alabama, we have more parochial reasons to support the F-35 program. The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce estimates that basing the F-35 with the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly will bring an estimated 1,000 jobs and $3 billion in capital investment to the River Region in the coming years. Senator Richard Shelby and both Congresswomen Martha Roby and Terry Sewell, have openly supported Montgomery’s adoption of the F-35 production as it will better the state in economic development as well as military might.
The F-35 is good for America and good for Alabama. Our President and Vice President support the program, and U.S. Congress fully funds it. As Alabama residents, we can’t allow the influence of Pentagon bureaucrats to replace our strong economic model with an old airplane.
We must support our Alabama leadership as they work with President Trump and Vice President Pence to make sure we maintain the F-35 model, not undermine it by buying F-15s. Like our President and Vice President, we need America to stay ahead of our adversaries across the globe, and give our military the best tool possible to support America. In doing so we will continue to support Alabama and keep America great.
Perry Hooper is a former State Representative from Montgomery who serves on the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee. In 2016 he chaired Alabama’s Trump Victory campaign.