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MCAS Beaufort Air Show stars F-35’s might. So why is Pentagon pushing F-15 for USAF?

With the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station Air Show this weekend, we have the opportunity to see the world’s most advanced fighter jet — the F-35 Lightning II — up close and learn more about its contributions to the Palmetto State’s economy and role in keeping America safe.

The F-35 is as stealthy as a shadow, using advanced computer engineering and extraordinary power to protect our pilots and our country.

Beaufort is the most important training base for the U.S. Marine Corps’ version of the fighter jet, the F-35B. Pilots from the U.S. and the U.K. and Italy have trained in our hometown, and some of these pilots have already used the F-35 in combat.

Last year, companies producing components of the F-35 aircraft supported almost 500 direct and indirect jobs across the state, providing almost $34 million in economic impact.

Many of these suppliers are small businesses, but even more important to Beaufort is the economic impact from the Pilot Training Center and the Marines and their families coming to Beaufort for training, and spending money on rent, restaurants, clothes and cars at local business. The people strengthen our community as their expenditures boost our economy.

Looking well beyond our local borders, we see China and Russia striving to compete with this example of American ingenuity. We must respond to this reality, but the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the jet, are fighting to make sure American taxpayers get the most for their money.

The cost for some F-35s will fall below $80 million next year, in large part because the jet is being developed and upgraded at the same time. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will all fly similar jets but with different capabilities, meaning that there are lower development costs, and selling the jet to America’s allies helps the F-35 program reach economies of scale to lower costs.

You can imagine my surprise when I read that the Pentagon brass is trying to push the Air Force to buy F-15s instead of F-35s. The F-15 has been in production since 1976, and production of this fourth-generation airplane is due to end in 2022.

The F-35 capabilities can never be added to an old F-15 aircraft, because what makes the F-35 a fifth-generation fighter is built into its stealthy structure, advanced avionics, and helmet with a 365-degree view.

The first time I saw an F-35B fly, I was amazed at its power, but when I had the chance to fly the cockpit demonstrator, the power and advanced capabilities became real to me. Our men and women in uniform need these capabilities to stay safe in our uncertain world.

Would you want your son or daughter to go to war with less protection than was available because someone in the Pentagon thought that 45-year-old airplane was good enough? Those of us living in the area — and truly across the Palmetto State — are proud, as the F-35 sound of freedom protects our country and makes our world safer.

Our Beaufort Marines know that their F-35 planes are on the front lines of fighting tyranny. From North Korea to Syria, both American and international F-35 pilots are showing the vital difference made by the only fifth-generation fighter jet so far operating in the world.

As you watch the amazing capabilities of the F-35 at the Beaufort air show this weekend, realize that you are watching a fighter that the world envies and that is contributing to the economy of our state, safety of our men and women in uniform, and protecting America.

Shannon Erickson of Beaufort represents District 124 in the South Carolina House of Representatives.
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