Candidate Wendy Rogers speaks during the Congressional District 9 Republican Debate at Pecos Community Center on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

To see the future of aviation and the undisputed standard for international air superiority at work, Arizonans will soon only have to look up. The F-35 Lightning II has arrived at Luke Air Force Base, and in a year’s time, Luke’s integrated training center will start the work of teaching the Air Force’s best pilots how to master the F-35 and leverage its unmatched combat capabilities in defense of freedom — both at home and abroad.

I am not overstating facts when I say the skies over the West Valley are slated to become the most impressive classroom in the world.

Arizona’s role in the F-35 program is something to be celebrated. The F-35 is a stealth fifth generation multi-role fighter that will dominate the skies and provide critical protection to the United States and our global interests. It’s not just Luke Air Force Base playing a part. Marine Corps Air Station Yuma is home base for a fleet of the Marines’ customized variation, the F-35B, which has short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities.

More than a dozen Arizona companies are committed F-35 production partners, developing and building components of this critical national defense tool. Private sector involvement in the F-35 has meant good things for Arizona’s economy, to the tune of $98 million being injected into our economy, and more than 1,200 direct and indirect jobs supported by the program.

As F-35 production numbers increase, aircraft costs will decrease; so much so that USAF Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon’s manager of the F-35 program, said recently that in five years, the price of an F-35A (the Air Force variant) will roughly decline by half, rivaling the cost of today’s fourth-generation aircraft. As a small business owner, I know how important an economic partnership of this magnitude is for companies and workers in Arizona. But I was an Air Force pilot first. What means more to me than anything about Arizona’s contributions to the F-35 project is that every part Arizonans make and every hour Arizonans spend on the F-35 helps to secure U.S. air superiority now and for decades to come.

Air superiority cannot be maintained without fifth generation aircraft. And of fifth generation aircraft, none come close to matching the capabilities of the F-35. In a presentation to the United States House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. William LaPlante said, “The F-35 is essential to any future conflict with a high-end foe. A fourth generation fighter cannot successfully compete with a fifth generation fighter in combat, nor can it survive and operate inside the advanced, integrated air defenses that some countries have today, and many more will have in the future. To defeat those air defenses, we need the F-35’s capabilities.”

That sentiment is echoed by leadership in the Marine Corps, Navy and Department of Defense.

Those piloting the F-35 will be supported by the most technically advanced aircraft the world has ever seen, one designed to prioritize their safety. Radar evading stealth, fighter speed and agility, long-range combat capabilities and 360-degree data capturing in the F-35 will equip our men and women in uniform with the tools they need to be the first to detect and respond to threats in a changing aerial battlefield. Most importantly, the F-35 will improve pilot effectiveness, helping our men and women in uniform succeed in their missions and return safely home.

It is not whether we, as a country, invest in America’s safety in the face of ever advancing threats. It’s how we invest. Where national security is at stake and taxpayer dollars are concerned, smart, enduring investments are the duty of elected officials and appointed decision makers. The F-35 is one such lasting investment. By choosing to orient America’s long-term aerial defense strategy around the F-35, decision makers are acting wisely and in our country’s best interest. Arizona is benefiting in turn.

• Lt. Col. Wendy Rogers is a Tempe-based small business owner and holds the distinction of being one of the United States Air Force’s first 100 women pilots. She is a Republican candidate for the Arizona’s 9th U.S. Congressional District.

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