South Carolinians believe in America and in our responsibility to protect the principles and people that make this country great.
That's why the people of South Carolina are so proud of the more than 65,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard troops stationed at the 12 U.S. military installations spread throughout our state.
Nothing is more important than keeping American citizens and families safe. That's why South Carolina's representatives in Congress consistently support the defense programs that protect our country and deter those who would threaten American safety or that of our allies.
Chief among the proven assets that will provide that protection in the years ahead is the future-focused F-35 "Lightning II."
The multi-role F-35 fighter represents a tremendous step forward in our ability to effectively protect our country against threats. It will revolutionize the Western alliance fighter fleets and provide more flexibility and options as we work together with our allies. With advanced stealth capabilities and a fully integrated sensor system, F-35 pilots can fly deep into hostile airspace undetected, engage and defeat those who threaten us, and return home safely.
The most important impact of the F-35 program is to better equip our military professionals. But the program also is creating American jobs, in fact long-term American careers. These are high-technology aerospace jobs that give American workers the training and skills they need to continue innovating throughout their careers. Even at its current low rate of production, the F-35 is already significantly enhancing the U.S. economy. With more than 1,350 suppliers in 45 states, the F-35 program is directly and indirectly supporting jobs for more than 133,000 people, with a total economic impact of $17.7 billion this year.
Moreover, as the program ramps up to full production over the next few years, Shaw Air Force Base-McEntire Joint National Guard Base and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort are on course to have F-35s based at their installations. That will provide real, measurable benefits to the state's economy.
With the potential to provide such significant benefits to the security of our nation, the effectiveness of our military, and the economic stability of our state, one might think such a program would garner widespread and unwavering support. Unfortunately, that is in doubt.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 placed the Defense Department on a path to reduce spending by $487 billion. Most Americans realize the fiscal pressures our nation faces and think that defense budgets should not be exempt from well thought-out cuts. As Sen. Lindsey Graham has correctly stated, Congress "should place Defense Department spending under the microscope with a goal of achieving $400 billion-plus in savings over the next decade. This is a difficult, but achievable task.
Of course, we can all agree with Sen. Graham that in difficult economic times, there is a place for reasonable, common-sense budget cuts. I fear, however, that current proposals fail to deliver on either count. The "sequestration" process established last year by the Budget Control Act could lead to a further round of dangerous defense cuts in January 2013. Unless Congress and the president act to cancel it, defense spending will be reduced by an additional $500 billion over the next 10 years.
The simple fact is that if sequestration occurs, all defense programs will be impacted with scarce consideration for the consequence. Common sense demands that a distinction be made between wasteful and warranted spending.
Ask yourself: With so much uncertainty across the globe; with threats anew from unpredictable nations, is now the time to be making such draconian cuts to our national defense?
As former commander of Central Command Air Forces for Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom, and as the 18th chief of staff of the Air Force, I have a firsthand understanding of the crucial importance of effective programs, such the F-35.
You might believe -- like most Americans -- that Democrats and Republicans can't agree on anything these days. However, on the issue of sequestration and defense cuts, there can be -- I believe there must be -- bipartisan agreement between Congress and the administration. This is one cut that will have severe and lasting consequences at a time America can ill afford it.
T. Michael Moseley, a retired U.S. Air Force general, was the 18th chief of staff of the Air Force until 2008. Moseley is a consultant to Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor for the F-35.