The Comanche and the Albatross:
About Our Neck Was Hung
The Air Force intended eventually to replace much of the post-Vietnam fighter fleet with the F-35A. This stealthy aircraft possesses advanced technology and was intended to be no more expensive than the aircraft it was designed to supplant. The Air Force sought to buy 1,763 F-35As—the number required to replace every F-16, A-10, and F-117 then in service. Rather than an affordable, capable fighter aircraft operational in large numbers by 2015, the F-35 continues to arrive late and cost more than anticipated. Program delays, unmet performance requirements, and spiraling costs have recently run full tilt into an austere budgetary environment. Budgetary realities should serve as an impetus to reexamine the Air Force's participation in the F-35 program and the future of the fighter force. The Army's treatment of the Comanche program offers an example of a bold move in aviation which allowed that service to both modernize and recapitalize. This example shows a potential way forward and should serve to remind Airmen that the Air Force is essential for national security, that the F-35 is not, and that we should be wary of risking the former in our pursuit of the latter.