As Congress debates federal deficit reductions, they are reviewing America’s commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This program is critical to the national security of the United States and while reducing spending may look good when running for re-election, the truth is that reductions now will cost taxpayers more later. As a result we will aid our adversaries in closing the gap between American air superiority and their own, reducing our global power and putting our armed service members at greater risk. This is simply unacceptable.

The F-35 is a stealthy, fifth-generation, multi-role fighter that provides incredible situational awareness to the pilot to keep the troops and America safe. Pilot situational awareness uses data from our satellites, intelligence sources and ground troops to discern hostile targets versus friendly ones and in order to take appropriate action. Our current arsenal of aircraft consists of aging F-18 and F-16 fighters which do not provide this same level of situational awareness, putting the pilot and our assets on the ground at risk. While these older fighters have served their purpose and served it well, as all products, they begin to grow obsolete. China and Russia are rapidly developing next-generation aircraft of their own, and if Congress continues to debate this program, we might find ourselves the “odd man out” for the first time since the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II.

Congress needs to understand that the F-35 represents a pragmatic approach to maintaining America’s global air superiority. It is both a fiscally responsible replacement to the F-18 and F-16 fighters and it will serve the Air Force, Navy and Marines. A versatile fighter which can serve three branches of our military over the course of several decades is one of the best examples I have seen yet of reducing waste and getting the best return for our investment.

While I understand that the size and scope of the program draws criticism, Congress needs to realize that constant debate over its future builds uncertainty and dampens the program’s evolution. The F-35 program has been built to provide sustainable predictable costs to the military while it ramps up to full production. Reduction in planes could have ripple effects across the program and the nation. Certainly, making cuts for 2012 might save money in 2012, but that reduction will escalate the cost per plane as production is slowed, once again pushing the deficit burden onto future generations. As a small business owner, I can emphatically say that this is poor business practice and should stop.

Serving as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, I know first-hand the value of having state-of-the-art aircraft available to our armed services. It boosts morale and solidifies our global air power. Just as the Cold War used the Strategic Air Command to prevent a surprise Soviet attack upon the United States, this aircraft and its components would ensure that America continues to stay one step ahead of our adversaries and would deter conflict. Congress needs to recognize that the F-35 program is not a wasteful, unnecessary program — it is very necessary, as well as being our best “bang for the buck.” To ensure America stays well defended, please tell your elected officials to support the F-35.

• Wendy Rogers is a Tempe small-business owner and a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who was one of the first 100 women pilots in the USAF.

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