Congressman Turner (R-OH), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared at the hearing titled "Military Services 5th Generation Tactical Aircraft Challenges and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Update."
“This is a timely hearing and is complementary to last week’s full committee hearing on the “State of the Military.” Last week the committee heard testimony from each of the military services’ Vice Chiefs of Staff that the force is strained, and that the Services have to do more with less.
“These challenges, combined with years of budget driven national security strategies and cuts, rather than threat-based strategies, have led to a military readiness crisis. With a new Administration indicating its intent to “rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces,” I look forward to working with them to reverse this harmful trend in military readiness.
“Modernization and building capacity are critical components to restoring readiness. This brings us to today’s hearing focus on 5th generation tactical fighter requirements and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
“This is the third oversight hearing the subcommittee has held over the past year on the requirements and importance of fifth generation fighters given current and emerging threats.
“One of those hearings was at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on June 18th, 2016, and the witness, then Major General Jerry Harris, here with us today, and then the Vice Commander of Air Combat Command, showed us a striking picture of one half of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and one half of a Chinese J-31 fighter joined together.
“It looked like one aircraft, and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that our adversaries are extremely close to fielding fifth generation fighter programs of their own. With only 187 F-22s and 219 F-35s produced, we have very limited 5th generation capacity.
“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is nearing the end of its development program and is over 90 percent complete. It’s no secret the F-35 development program has faced some significant challenges in cost and schedule overruns early in development. After being re-baselined in 2010, the program has been successful in meeting cost and schedule goals.
“Although F-35 development is scheduled to be completed by October of this year, General Bogdan has noted in previous updates that there remains about three to four months of schedule risk to completion of the F-35 development program and additional costs could be incurred.
“In terms of oversight, the subcommittee remains concerned about the costs associated with closing out the F-35 development program, the maturity of the program to potentially execute a Block Buy for fiscal years 2018 through 2020, and determining whether more efficient program management can help accelerate the initial operational test and evaluation program. We expect to gain a better understanding of these important oversight issues today.
“During our hearing last July on 5th generation fighters, General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stressed that fourth-generation aircraft play a significant role in the near term in addressing fighter capacity and inventory concerns since we have few operational 5th generation fighters.
“He also noted the importance of 5th generation fighters, [quote] “The role of our 4th Gen fighters will diminish over time due to two main reasons: The first is they will age out and be replaced by more capable F-35s. But more pressingly, our 4th generation fighters are more increasingly unable to operate in highly contested environments where advanced air defense systems render them ineffective.”
“Given current fiscal constraints, the military services are being forced to prioritize between building capacity in 4th generation tactical aircraft inventory to help mitigate some of the immediate readiness burdens on the current force or trying to accelerate needed 5th generation tactical aircraft capability.
“For National Security purposes, it’s not a question of one or the other…the answer really is that we need to do both.
“In closing, there have been several reports and comments in regards to the President’s concerns for the need to lower the costs of the F-35 program. Affordability of this program has always been an oversight concern of this committee. I am looking forward to working with the new Administration and the Department of Defense to continue to explore ways to reduce costs in this program and other defense programs.”