US, Asia-Pacific allies rolling out F-35 stealth fighter
The US and its Asia-Pacific allies are rolling out their new stealth fighter jet, a cutting-edge plane that costs about $100 million each.
The US Air Force this week hosted allies and partners in Hawaii for a symposium on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which can sneak undetected behind enemy radar.
Brig. Gen. Craig Wills, the strategic plans director at Pacific Air Forces, said the US wanted to share its experiences with the F-35 and F-22, another stealth fighter, with allies and partners so they wouldn't have to learn everything on their own.
The Air Force will use the F-35 to replace the A-10 and the F-16, and say it represents a "quantum leap" in air combat capability over these older planes.
"The idea with fifth generation is that we want to be able to operate in areas where others cannot, in places where our fourth generation airplanes can't fly," Wills said.
The US Marine Corps in January deployed 10 of the planes to a base in Japan. The US Air Force plans to station the jet in Alaska within three years.
Australia and Japan have already taken delivery of some of planes that they are using for pilot training in Arizona. South Korea is scheduled to get the plane next year.
The F-35 is being built in different configurations for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy's version is designed to take off and land on an aircraft carrier.
The F-35 had massive budget overruns early on, but analysts say the cost has stabilized and even dropped a bit after negotiations between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based think tank, said the F-35 can make a "huge difference " in places like North Korea, where it could defeat air defenses and take out threats before they could react.
"The F-35 could fly all the way from South Korea to the North Korean capital without anyone from North Korea knowing it was on its way," he said.
The Air Force currently has 103 planes in its possession, including one fully operational fighter wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
Other than Alaska, Wills said the Air Force hasn't decided where in the Pacific it will station additional planes. Alaska's Eielson Air Force Base is expected to get two squadrons.
The Air Force currently bases F-22 jets in Hawaii and Alaska. Wills said the F-22 was designed to face down other fighter jets in the air, but also have an ability to hit ground targets. The F-35 was designed to strike ground targets and for air-to-air combat. (**)
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