Our national security depends on a strong F-35 program built by American workers

As a U.S. Navy veteran and aircraft assembler by trade, I am proud to see my hometown of Fort Worth building the most sophisticated and superior aircraft in the world, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The first F-16 was delivered to the Air Force in 1978. It was built by the men and women of Fort Worth. As a former aircraft assembler on the F-16 production line, I felt a sense of American pride in producing the world’s most advanced combat plane. It’s the same sense of pride that many feel today while making the world's premier — and only — 5th generation fighter in production today, the F-35. It is also the only active production line that can produce the numbers of aircraft necessary to ensure that our services and allies maintain air dominance for decades to come.

In a March 26 op-ed in The Hill, opinion contributor Sean Kennedy states that “the best taxpayers can likely hope for, barring an uncharacteristic recalibration with reality from the Pentagon, is that the program gets significantly scaled back.”

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The Machinists Union, which I am honored to lead as international president, disagrees with this assessment. The opposite should happen with the F-35 program. Now is the time to invest in the best air-to-air fighter by ramping up the production line to reduce unit costs and continue to handle the world’s current and emerging threats.

Thirteen partner and allied countries who rely on the F-35 agree that this aircraft is the world’s best multi-role fighter, capable of deterring adversaries and enables critical joint capabilities. Machinists Union members take pride in building this game-changing aircraft that will keep our fighter pilots safe so they can come back home safely to their loved ones.

The op-ed also fails to highlight the significant economic contributions this program that supports more than 254,000 direct and indirect American jobs and approximately 1,800 first-tier suppliers across the country, generating an annual economic impact of over $49 billion in the U.S. These numbers include high-paying, high-tech Machinists Union jobs in California who manufacture F-35 components, members in Connecticut who build Pratt and Whitney F-35 engines, and many more who work throughout the F-35 supply chain. When our union discusses what “Made in America” means, we highlight the F-35 program and how it has made the lives of working families better — not only in Fort Worth, but all across our nation. These jobs are key as our economy continues to try and recover on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, a point we intend to make when we meet with the Biden administration.

Our country has a real opportunity to put politics aside and invest in our nation’s homegrown technology and workforce. With Russia and China expanding defense investment, now is not the time for long-time skeptics of our military defense department to put our nation at risk by seeking to cut this critical fifth generation deterrence that provides a generational technological gap between us and our adversaries. As the administration is in the midst of preparing the president’s budget, we have highlighted that now is the time to invest in the best air-to-air fighter by ramping up the production line to reduce unit costs and continue to handle the world’s current and emerging threats.

I have confidence that congressional leadership of both parties and the Biden administration will improve our military readiness and capability, while giving our service members and women everything they need to do their job safely and effectively. Maintaining our nation’s only 5th Generation stealth aircraft currently in production, the F-35, is key to investing in smart defense.

The dedication of Machinists Union members who are a part of the F-35 program make a better world possible. We will continue our work to ensure elected officials in Washington understand that the F-35 program is a strategic investment in our nation’s security and American workers.

Robert Martinez Jr. is the 14th International President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). A Fort Worth native, Martinez served in the U.S. Navy before joining IAM Local 776A as an aircraft assembler in 1980. The IAM is among the largest industrial trade unions in North America, representing nearly 600,000 active and retired members in the manufacturing, aerospace, defense, airline, railroad, transportation, automotive, shipbuilding, woodworking, health care and other industries.