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Research Report

MASS and SUPREMACY: A Comprehensive Case for the F-35

Thomas Donnelly
Phillip Lohaus
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2013
Pages: 45
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-5)

    On December 22, 1994, the US Department of Defense (DOD) announced its awarding of 24 contracts under what was then known as the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program, merging the JAST effort with another program, the Advanced Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing project, which would replace the Marine Corps’ aging fleet of AV-8B Harrier IIs. At the time, the Clinton administration—which had just been delivered a stunning rebuke in the midterm elections, and was preparing to deal with a new generation of budget-cutting Republicans in the House of Representatives (then led by Georgia Representative Newt Gingrich)—had three...

  2. (pp. 6-12)

    By many measures, US armed forces are imperfectly suited to the clear demands of the emerging security environment. A full discussion of defense strategy, force structure, and requirements is beyond the scope or the needs of this study. Yet a full appreciation of the value of the F-35 does demand an analysis of the purposes and possibilities for alliances, partnerships, and coalitions that can buttress traditional American defense goals under changed circumstances. The F-35 can and indeed must be a key tool for building partner capacity in the coming decades, giving structure and substance to long-term US strategy.

    The phrase...

  3. (pp. 13-21)

    The unforeseen collapse of the Soviet Union, soon followed by the surprising success of Operation Desert Storm, lulled many to believe that US armed forces enjoyed advantages in military technology, tactical competence, and operational effectiveness so great that potential antagonists might be entirely dissuaded from competing at all in the realm of conventional military power.

    The 9/11 attacks and the fear of irregular forces with weapons of mass destruction suggested that war in the 21st century would be a highly “asymmetric” affair, a contest between the American Leviathan and shape-shifting “networks” of terror groups, criminal gangs, and rogue states whose...

  4. (pp. 22-27)

    The post–9/11 years have been unkind to the US Marine Corps. It has been fully embroiled in the extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. These inherently taxing efforts have been made even more so by the very structure of the Corps. A service designed for sea-basing and relatively short-term expeditionary operations (with a force-generation model geared to produce units that deploy for just six or seven months) has struggled to meet the demands of long-lasting missions well ashore.

    As with the US Army, the unremitting requirements of irregular warfare have hamstrung the Corps’ modernization efforts. To be sure, recent...

  5. (pp. 28-34)

    Given that the United States spends more on its military than the next-13-highest-spending countries combined, and that the technological capabilities of US forces are the envy of the world, the need for military modernization may not be obvious at first blush.71 Indeed, it is fair to say that one of the reasons for DOD’s stalled modernization efforts over the past two decades is the broad feeling that the qualitative advantages enjoyed by US armed forces are beyond challenge.

    The few cases for concern—such as the need to respond to the “improvised explosive devices” that revealed the vulnerabilities of US...

  6. (pp. 35-35)

    For more than a generation, the US defense establishment has been mesmerized by the advantages of advanced technology on modern battlefields. As President Obama famously told Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 candidates’ debates, modern warships are far more capable than those of bygone eras. And the advantages of technology are most obviously apparent in this “age of airpower.” Though embroiled in high-tempo operations since the 1991 Gulf War, the US military routinely loses more aircraft in training accidents than in combat every year.

    Nonetheless, this study boils down to one simple but eternal truth: in war, numbers matter....