Secretary of Defense James Mattis has directed his deputy to conduct a review of the F-35 fighter program with an eye to reducing costs while keeping requirements intact. This will not be hard to accomplish. If the program simply stays on its current vector while ramping up production to more economical rates, it should be feasible to reduce the cost of each plane by 10% or more. And if Mattis can convince Congress to reduce the mass of government regulations that add cost but not value to the F-35, the price-tag can be reduced even further. However, one problem the Mattis review will not be able to solve is how the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet can be transformed into a viable alternative to the carrier-based version of F-35. That isn’t in the cards, because no amount of tinkering can make a legacy fighter as survivable or versatile as F-35. Any plan to keep U.S. aircraft carriers relevant to national strategy after 2020 has to begin with getting F-35s on to carrier decks. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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