Air Force secretary nominee backs stealth of F-35 jets

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The Air Force secretary nominee on Thursday all but canceled out President Trump’s previous threats to replace the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 with Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, saying the Boeing jet didn’t have a needed stealth capability.

Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) told the Senate Armed Services Committee she believed that the Air Force could not give F-18 fighter jets the same stealth capabilities the F-35 already holds.

“I don’t think you can do [that] with an F-18 or an F-15 or an F-16, to give it stealth capability retroactively,” she told lawmakers during her nomination hearing.


Wilson was responding to questions from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who asked if it would be a fair fight with potential adversaries “if we souped-up an F-18 versus move forward with F-35s?”

Trump in December criticized the F-35 costs as “out of control,” and wrote on Twitter that he had asked Boeing to price out a competitive alternative with its F/A-18.

He also hinted at a Super Hornet replacement during his first 2017 press conference.

“We’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program and perhaps the F-18 program,” he said. “And we’re going to get those costs way down, and we’re gonna get the plane even better, and we’re going to have to competition. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”

Following the speech, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered a review of the F-35 that scrutinizes possible ways to cut costs and whether the F/A-18 could become an alternative to the Lockheed fighter jet.

Wilson also received a line of inquiry from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who pressed the nominee about the possible retirement of the F-15C/D Eagle fighter jet.

“I was disappointed to learn that this decision is being considered, even before a cost and capability analysis has been completed,” Warren said. “If confirmed, will you defer this decision until the committee has been provided with an analysis that purchasing new F-16s instead of servicing existing F-15s will provide the same level of capability and actually save taxpayer money?”

Wilson deflected, saying she had not yet been briefed on the matter. She did not promise to put the retirement on hold but said she will commit to being fully transparent in any future retirement decisions.

The proposed F-15 retirement was brought to light at a House hearing last week when Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Scott Rice confirmed the service was mulling over replacing the jet with F-16s. The Air Force will keep its newer F-15E Strike Eagles.

But Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans, programs and requirements, told reporters Wednesday that the Air Force would not retire the jets until the 2020s.

Tags Air Force Boeing Elizabeth Warren Lockheed Martin

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