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OPINION

Allied Military Cohesion is Key to Facing New Global Threats

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

With geopolitical tensions reaching a fever pitch and authoritarian leaders on the move, Americans are right to be turning their attention to the specter of global threats.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin’s offensive operations in Ukraine and nuclear saber-rattling have pushed the world closer to a World War than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 13 day showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union 60 years ago last month.

Xi Jinping has prompted fears that his country may be preparing to invade Taiwan by aggressively consolidating power and purging moderates from the Chinese Communist Party’s top ranks.

A countrywide anti-government uprising in the Islamic Republic of Iran risks regional conflagration as the regime’s theocratic leaders lash out at peaceful demonstrators – including women, children, and unarmed civilians – with lethal force.

And North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has repeatedly breached United Nations Security Council resolutions by threatening neighbors, launching ballistic missiles, and enacting legislation authorizing pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

If ever it was crucial for the United States to operate multilaterally to address global threats, this is it. But coordinating kinetic operations means aligning weapons systems and acquisitions processes.

That is why it is so alarming that some in Congress and the defense industry are waging a domestic battle for a different propulsion system for the F-35, America’s preeminent stealth fighter jet – technology that is shared by 14 nations and counting.  Such partnerships lower costs through collective investments and economies of scale while enhancing security cooperation.

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While innovation is important to improve F-35s, which first flew in 2006, a completely new engine would be counterproductive because it would force the United States and our allies to create parallel supply and logistics chains to maintain new and old engine models. This would be costly and unnecessary.

Moreover, if approved by the Department of Defense and funded by Congress, a proposed new system dubbed the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) wouldn’t be ready until 2027 –mid-way into the jet program’s expected lifespan.

It seems more practical to upgrade the existing F135 engine instead. The current manufacturer has proposed an Enhanced Engine Package (EEP) which appears comparable to AETP in terms of improved range, thrust, and engine cooling so the F-35s can remain the world’s most combat effective fighter jet.

The debate over F-35 engines has been a hot topic in defense circles over the past year, even though a similar push to replace them was defeated by Congress in 2011. Fiscally conservative Republicans had joined with Democrats to agree by a 233-198 vote that allocating $450 million towards such an effort was a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Eleven years later, at a Potomac Officers Club conference last month, Pentagon acquisition and sustainment chief William LaPlante said of new F-35 engines, “we are not going to kick the can. We are going to make a decision,” hinting that it will come with the fiscal year 2024 defense budget request.

Since the F-35 Joint Program Office’s former head Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said last year that under the international partnership rules “you have to pay to be different,” it’s highly problematic for a decision made in Washington to impact all our allies flying F-35s.This is particularly so for the eight partner countries who signed on from the beginning, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, and Australia – some of America’s strongest military allies.

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If the United States moves forward with a completely different engine system, our allies would be forced to buy them too – or face their F-35 fleets becoming obsolete post-2027. That’s no way to treat our friends if we expect them to partner with us in the event of armed conflict with Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, or Pyongyang.

With the prospect of armed conflict rising, the United States cannot afford distractions, nor should we compromise our security preparedness by complicating global partnerships.

Upgrades to existing engine technologies would involve fewer new factors, less risk, and continued interoperability – all of which are necessary to maximize the F-35’s alliance-based defeat and deter capabilities.

Allied military cohesion is critical to addressing the world’s most urgent security challenges. We must make it easier for allies to partner with America to counter new global threats.

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