The nation’s ability to develop a “generation six” fighter jet could be the first casualty of defense budget cuts.
Fred Downey, Aerospace Industries Association vice president for national security, told an Air Force Association audience earlier this month that the most threatened specialty in the defense industrial base is manned fighter aircraft design.
“Maintaining such design talent is expensive and there are no new manned fighters in planning, let alone on the drawing board,” Downey said.
The U.S. has the edge in generation five fighters, but that edge could be lost over time. The Pentagon has ended the abbreviated production of the F-22 fighter while F-35 development continues to suffer criticism due to cost overruns.
Pentagon officials have mentioned the potential of a “generation six” fighter, but no serious commitment has been discussed publicly.
Downey said companies cannot retain “military-unique” design and production capabilities without the prospect of demands from the Defense Department.
“Our boards won’t let us and our investors won’t let us if there is no market or no profit,” he is quoted in an AFA account of his remarks. “Industry is most concerned about the evaporation of its skilled workforce which is not easy to reconstitute.”
He stressed that reconstituting that capability in the wake of a bad Pentagon decision is “problematic at best.”
By Gene Rector
March 27, 2012