Accelerating 5th Generation Airpower: Bringing Capability and Capacity to the Merge

Arlington, VA | June 29, 2023 — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce a new entry in its Policy Paper series, Accelerating 5th Generation Airpower: Bringing Capability and Capacity to the Merge by Lt Gen Joseph Guastella, USAF (Ret.), Senior Fellow at The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies; Douglas Birkey, Executive Director of the Mitchell Institute; and Lt Col Eric Gunzinger, USAF (Ret.).

The Air Force faces a severe fighter aircraft shortfall. The current inventory is both small and old, a significant problem given today’s threat environment. The Air Force arrived at this precarious position over decades in which multiple decisions left fighter modernization efforts curtailed and canceled. After four decades of hard use, aircraft mostly procured in the 1980s Reagan defense buildup are no longer viable against modern threats, expensive to sustain, and on the verge of structural exhaustion.

The key to reset this is the F-35 and its latest updates: Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) and Block 4, involving more than 80 individual upgrades added to the aircraft over the next several years. The combination of stealth, sensors, processing power, and connectivity is essential for success in the modern battle space. The F-35’s price point of $80M per unit also means it is affordable in volume. The Air Force has long wanted this model of the aircraft, and with TR-3 and Block 4 capabilities now in the final phases of testing, the program is on the verge of crossing a major threshold into the operational realm.

The Mitchell Institute Policy Papers is a series presenting new thinking and policy proposals to respond to the emerging security and aerospace power challenges of the 21st century. These papers are written for lawmakers and their staffs, policy professionals, business and industry, academics, journalists, and the informed public.

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