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​Four F-35 Lightning II aircraft prepare for takeoff at Hill AFB, Utah, May 4, 2016. Air Force photo by Paul Holcomb.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is proposing a massive increase in defense spending to avoid what he calls irreparable damage to the military’s ability. McCain on Sunday released a 33-page white paper recommending budget actions for Fiscal 2018-2022, including a $640 billion base budget in 2018 and spending $430 billion above current plans over the next five years. “The cost of inaction is worse: We will irreparably damage our military’s ability to deter aggression and conflict,” McCain said in releasing the document. “We owe it to our men and women in uniform to charge a better course.” McCain calls on the Air Force to re-evaluate its goal of 1,763 F-35As, a plan he says is “unrealistic.” Still, the Air Force needs to procure as many of the fighters as possible “with an ultimate goal of moving beyond the program as quickly as possible.” The service requires close to 60 combat squadrons with 1,500 combat-coded fighter aircraft to be effective against emerging threats. The Air Force needs to sustain the A-10 fleet while looking to procure 300 low-cost, light-attack fighters—200 by 2022. The Air Force also must increase its ranks by 20,000 personnel over the next five years to “return more quickly to full-spectrum readiness,” McCain wrote.

“AFA believes the Air Force needs to continue to invest, with strong congressional support, in aircraft recapitalization and modernization programs for our aging fleets to ensure all core mission capabilities remain viable now and into the future,” according to an AFA statement. “The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the Air Force’s No. 1 modernization priority and is essential to the Air Force and to our nation. … We support Senator McCain’s proposed investments in new technologies and cybersecurity in order to preserve our technological edge.” The plan also received immediate support from industry, with the Aerospace Industries Association supporting the proposal, saying it is overdue investment to help US national security. (Read the white paper; Caution, large-sized file.)