More or Less F-35s?

The Air Force program of record for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is to purchase 1,763, but that number could go up or down depending on the Quadrennial Defense Review. Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told House appropriators June 3 that USAF would have “well over 1,500 F-35s” in a mix of 187 F-22 Raptors and some number of legacy fighters. That was not the answer that Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) probably expected when she asked that since the 1,763 F-35 fleet was predicated on having 381 F-22s, would the Air Force now “make a case for the F-35 force structure to compensate for not having 381 F-22s?” Schwartz explained that the fighter total is “highly dependent on the scenarios we use to conduct the analysis.” He continued: “It is not yet clear what the top line will be for the department. For us it has been 2,250 fighter-strike type aircraft [a mix of F-22s, F-35s, and legacy], for some number of years. It could end up being less.” We would hazard less, since Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes that the US tactical aircraft advantage will be overwhelming for the next 15 to 20 years.