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Feb. 22, 2013—The Air Force will have a "serious breach of capability" if the powers that be decide to cancel the F-35 strike fighter program in an effort to fix the nation's budget crisis, said Gen. Mike Hostage, head of Air Combat Command in an interview on Feb 21.

It's an option Hostage clearly doesn't want, but that doesn't mean Air Force officials haven't started thinking about how they would defend the country if the F-35 does fall victim to the budget ax.

"I would have to refurbish the [F-15] and [F-16 fleets] and the legacy hardware I have today. I also have a very small fleet of tremendously capable airplanes in the F-22s. I would push to buy more of those," he told the Daily Report in Orlando, Fla., at AFA's Air Warfare Symposium.

Specifically, Hostage said, the Air Force would need another 225 F-22s to ensure that it could execute a successful war plan and still remain ready to deal with a second contingency, if necessary.

That would bring the Raptor fleet back in line with the numbers that the Air Force anticipated purchasing before then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 capped F-22 production at 187 airframes.

Hostage acknowledged that restarting the F-22 production line would not be cheap and could eat up any potential savings gained by cancelling the F-35 program.

However, this step would be necessary in order to maintain the fifth generation capability needed to ensure the US military's legacy aircraft fleets survive future threats, he said.

"The problem is that all those fourth generation airplanes that my sister services are buying will not survive the fight in the latter half of the next decade. They are not relevant," said Hostage.

He said killing the F-35 "will not save all the money that people tout you will save."

That's because, "first of all, you've already spent a bunch of [funds] and you will have to spend money you would have spent on the F-35 [on] refurbishing F-15s and F-16s and buying more F-22s to get a force capable of getting us to the next decade," he said.

Plus, the "cost" of trying to save dollars will be "greater risk" to the nation, he said.

Hostage maintained that the Air Force must have the 1,763 F-35As in its program of record to remain viable in the future.

"Numbers count. It's not just the high capability of our force. You need a quantity of that force in order to be capable," he said.