YUMA, Ariz. - Things are starting to look up for the F-35, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the world’s most advanced fighter jet.
Over the past few years, the F-35 program has received a lot of backlash for being behind schedule and over budget.
At one point, President Trump called the program’s costs “out of control.”
And Sen. John McCain took an even harsher approach last year while testifying before Congress.
“The F-35 program’s record of performance has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule, and performance,” stated the Arizona senator, who is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
However, at the beginning of the month, the Department of Defense along with the F-35’s main contractor Lockheed Martin announced they will be reducing the price on the Pentagon’s most expensive defense program.
Each jet is now priced at $95 million instead of $102 million--a total savings of $728 million for the next installment, according to officials with Lockheed Martin.
Even though politicians on Capitol Hill are griping about the F-35’s hefty price tag, Marine pilots stand by the fighter jet’s abilities.
"It’s an incredible airplane to fly,” said Major Christopher Brandt, an F-35 pilot at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
Brandt flew the AV-8B Harrier for nearly a decade before being switching over to the F-35 two years ago.
“The Harrier was a great platform, but it’s almost 40-years-old. The new technology that has come out since then is far superior,” said Brandt.
Other pilots agree--with the F-35’s state-of-the-art technology, there’s no comparison.
“It’s almost like asking, 'how does a ‘68 Mustang compare to a 2016 Mustang?' It’s a generational change. They both say Mustang. They’re both made by Ford, and that’s pretty much it,” explained Major Chris Tschinski, also an F-35 pilot at MCAS Yuma.
While the military phases out older fighter jet models like the Harrier, the F-18 Hornet, and the EA-6B Prowler over the next several years, there's a void that needs to be filled.
Pilots say, that's where the F-35 comes in.
It's an unprecedented force in the air, at sea, and on the land.
“In the cockpit, you have much more situational awareness of what’s going on in the battle space than you did in any other platform. It takes all the sensors that it has and brings it into basically a common picture that you as a pilot, it’s easy to decipher," explained Brandt.
The jet can execute vertical take-offs and landings on very short and sometimes makeshift runways.
However, it’s the F-35’s stealth technology that has experts calling the jet a 5th generation aircraft.
“Other airplanes with radars have a tough time seeing us, which gives us a pretty big advantage," said Brandt.
An advantage that Brandt says could play a big role in setting the world stage.
“We want to have the most advanced technology in the world just to defend ourselves against anyone else who’s trying to do the same thing," said Brandt. "It’s important that we keep up with all that technology and be a leader in the world. It’s time to move on to the F-35.”