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Harold Hutchison / Sep. 22, 2020

How Trump Jumped China in the Battle for Air Supremacy

Under this president, we've seen a far shorter turnaround time for a key air asset.

We’ve made no secret of Barack Obama’s sorry stewardship of our military. During his eight years in office, Obama continually cut programs and slashed vital assets such as aircraft carriers and the F-22 Raptor, which Obama (with a big assist from the late Republican Senator John McCain) halted at 187 airframes.

The F-22 was supposed to replace the F-15C/D Eagle air-superiority fighter, but because production was halted prematurely, the Air Force still has 249 of the latter in service, and the pilots of those planes could be facing a very tough fight against Chinese or Russian-built planes in the Su-27/Su-30/Su-33/J-11/J-15/J-16 Flanker family, of which China and Russia combined have almost 1,100 in service or on order.

We’d been concerned that President Donald Trump might not push for Congress to restart F-22 production as soon as he took office. Every new administration has a host of problems that await it, but Trump’s challenges were even more pressing, especially with the rise of ISIS and the Democrats’ obstruction and malfeasance during the transition. This left the president with some difficult decisions on procurement and force readiness.

Trump and his military leaders, though, appear to have done something even better than restarting the F-22. The Air Force is test-flying a new air-dominance fighter right now — one designed to decisively win a dogfight with a Chinese J-20 or Russian Su-57.

Here’s the other big news: This new fighter was developed and is making its test flights in just over a year since the program was given the go-ahead. Compare that remarkably quick turnaround to the time it took the military to get the F-35 from prototype (2000) to operational deployments and a combat debut (2018).

What could this mean? Well, if enough of these planes are purchased — we’ll assume enough to replace the aforementioned 249 F-15s that were kept in service — it could give us a considerable air edge in any conflict with China or Russia. In addition, if the Navy were to adopt similar design techniques, its carrier air wings — the primary weapons of these massive ships — could receive a similar boost.

This could also give us an edge in another important area: China is still putting its J-20 online. According to FlightGlobal.com’s 2020 edition of World Air Forces, China has all of 15 of these planes in service, while Russia has ordered 78 of the Su-57. These paltry inventories aren’t ready for prime time.

Of course, the deployment of this new fighter will likely hinge on whether our nation gives Donald Trump another four years as commander-in-chief. Joe Biden was vice president when the F-22 production run was cut short. Were he elected president, would Biden slash the funds for this fighter to placate the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other elements of his hard-left base? It would be best if our warfighters never had to find out.

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