If we are not willing to risk manned assets, even the F-22 and B-2 which are supposedly “survivable,” especially with jamming support, intense ELINT surveillance, and even strikes on fixed radar and select SAM sites, for a strike on Syria, a country with a 2nd rate integrated air defense system that has been degraded through two years of brutal civil war, instead opting to lob standoff weapons only with price tags ranging from $500k-$2M, do you really expect an administration to use F-35’s over China or another peer state with a first-rate IADS??? Laughable!
The reality is that we have better options for deep strike and penetrating surveillance than those that include American souls onboard. In many ways unmanned systems are far, far better for these roles. Range, persistence, cost, expendability, networkability (see swarms) and so on just far eclipse what a manned asset can do when it comes to “kicking down the enemy’s door” or spying on them from inside their own “fence line.” So why on earth are we procuring over 2000 manned stealth fighters at unbelievable acquisition and sustainment costs?
Once again the writing is clearly on the wall for all to see:
1.) Procure upgraded known legacy systems that are mature and cost-effective for bread and butter work.
2.) Build 250 upgraded F-22s for the dynamic and critical counter air role, one that unmanned platforms are less suited for at this time.
3.) Invest heavily in a new heavy long-range strike and surveillance platform. Spiral development into an optionally manned platform makes sense.
4.) Robustly invest immediately in leading edge unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology for deep strike, destruction of enemy air defenses and penetrating surveillance. This is a game changing, “leap ahead” technology.
5.) Cancel the F-35. The Air Force an Navy will be far better off and the Marines can fly the Harrier for another 15 years while they develop a STOVL UCAV for the “Gator Navy” flattops.
A flexible force structure with a dynamic mix of capabilities would not only save billions but it would allow the US to fight wars cheaper, more efficiently, and without the risk to air crews during the volatile opening stages of conflict. Even during the Cold War, a time where US defense spending was at a modern high, and stealth technology existed in the F-117, they were not built in throngs as it was a niche capability and in the end you still have to put an American in harm’s way to leverage that capability. Most of all it was, and still is, very expensive to produce and especially expensive to operate.
In the end I think it is clear, if we will not risk US aircrews over Syria, even with the best manned low observable platforms money can currently buy, why on earth are going to Bankrupt our air arms on this capability and be locked into it for 30+ years to come. Thirty years ago the President was still flying on a 707, the Hornet was just entering service and F-8 Crusader was still in inventory!