More importantly, increasing production rates is the right step to begin the huge potential return on investment that awaits the F-35 program. Like the F-16, one of the fighters it is intended to replace, the payoff for the development and early production costs of the F-35 lies in exploiting the production phase with large, annual buys over many years, to generate a large return on the nation’s investment. We failed to exploit our investment in the development of the B-2 bomber and F-22 fighter aircraft because we lowered annual production quantities to the point where unit costs increased precipitously making further production unaffordable. Both programs anticipated larger production runs that would have lowered unit costs to affordable levels. Let us not make that mistake with the F-35.
The F-35 program is now poised to provide the returns on investment that were intended at its outset. The war fighters of our nation and 10 or more of our allied nations want and need the F-35 for their security in a hostile world. Now is the time to take advantage of the program’s turnaround and significantly increase the annual rate of production.
John Michael Loh is a retired four-star general, a former Air Force vice chief of staff and former commander of Air Combat Command. He consults for several defense companies including Pratt & Whitney.