The South Carolina State Museum featured a glimpse into the future of air combat Wednesday that supporters say will provide a huge economic impact for the state of South Carolina.
Lockheed Martin hosted a F-35 Lightning II interactive cockpit demonstrator at the museum, which featured the plane’s advanced technologies and combat capabilities.
Lockheed’s director of F-35 programs Stephen Callaghan said there is a reason the F-35 is called “the world’s only 5th generation multirole fighter.”
“It has state of the art communications so the pilot can share what he’s seeing with the rest battle force, making everyone more effective,” he told reporters. “It has exceptional maneuverability and the worlds most advanced weapons delivery systems, so when it comes time and the pilot must prosecute an air-to-ground target, he or she can do so with lethal precision.”
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will host an F-35 training squadron once the planes are delivered. The station got its first plane in July. Training is scheduled to begin in November, and the training squadron is expected to have 15 F-35s on premises by next July.
Among the interested patrons at Wednesday’s event was U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. A ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Graham said the cuts in federal spending known as sequestration must be stopped in order for the F-35 program to continue unabated. Graham said he believes America needs the plane in order to maintain air superiority.
“My goal is very simple, I don’t want a fair fight.” Graham explained. “When we deploy our military, I want it to be overwhelming, I want it to be decisive, and end it as soon as possible. I don’t want to have anybody on the other side having the same capability as we do. And to keep distance from the enemy means you have to innovate.”
The F-35 program has been racked with safety problems and high costs. The Defense Department even suspended its development at one point in 2011. Software issues also threatened to prevent the plane from deploying overseas. It is still slated to enter service next year, however, and costs have stabilized.
Lockheed Martin officials said if the production quantities of the plane continue as planned, by 2018 the cost of each plane would be about $85 million, which is roughly the cost of a 4th-generation fighter like the F-16 and F-18 that the F-35 would be replacing.
Graham said one of the most important features of the F-35 is its stealth capability; its ability to fly deep in enemy territory without being easily detected. Graham visualizes a mission that the F-35 may have to perform in the not too distant future.
“If the Iranian nuclear program cannot be peacefully resolved, which I hope it can be, and there is a need one day to engage the Iranian nuclear program to stop the ayatollahs from having a nuclear capability then that means you have to go deep into Iran which has some sophisticated air defenses.”
South Carolina Congressmen Joe Wilson and Mick Mulvaney were also on hand for the demonstration. Mulvaney cited the nearly $50 million economic impact the F-35 program will provide for the state, which he thinks would lead to expansion in all likelihood.
“We all know about the training center in Beaufort,” he said. “$48 million is a big deal for us; a small state like us to have that type of economic impact which will only get bigger. It’s big deal for us. I’m especially excited about the opportunities that exit at Shaw and at McEntire (air bases).”