(Adds details of F-35 program, Pentagon cost-cutting, other
By Mike Stone
March 30 President Donald Trump's Air Force
secretary nominee, Heather Wilson, told U.S. senators on
Thursday that other jets lacked the stealth capability of
Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet, in remarks
suggesting the Pentagon's most expensive weapons system would
have an important advocate.
Wilson, a former U.S. representative from New Mexico, would
become the top civilian overseeing the Air Force if confirmed by
the Senate. Her purview would include weapons acquisitions like
the stealthy F-35 jet.
Asked if she felt it would make sense to rely on a
spruced-up version of the F-18, she said: "As a general matter,
the real thing I don't think you can do with an F-18 or an F-15
or an F-16 is give it stealth capability retroactively."
Her comments are significant because Trump has suggested
buying more Boeing Co F/A-18s, which he called
"comparable" to the F-35. This is despite the F-35's status as
a stealth aircraft, meaning it is difficult for enemy radar to
detect. The 1990s-vintage F/A-18 does not use stealth
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wilson's
nomination touched on expanding the size of the Air Force,
acquisitions of new space and cyber warfare capabilities as well
as aircraft like the F-35.
In January, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered
cost-cutting reviews of two major aircraft acquisition programs
including the F-35. The ongoing review is examining
how to cut costs and also determine whether Boeing's F/A-18E/F
Super Hornet, with improvements, could be an effective, less
expensive alternative to the F-35C variant.
Wilson did not delve into new acquisition program specifics
during the hearing but said "the Air Force is too small for what
the nation expects of it."
She is the first civilian head of a military branch to
testify before the Senate this year. Nominees for the Army and
Navy have removed their names from consideration.
A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Wilson has been
president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology since
2013 and said during her testimony that her nomination was
The Senate must hold a vote to confirm Wilson as the
secretary of the Air Force.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Arlington, Va.; Editing by Matthew