F-35 could be grounded

Metro: U.S. Rep. Tim Scott experienced the advanced technology of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet first-hand in an interactive flight simulator (Christina Elmore/Staff).

U.S. Reps. Tim Scott and Joe Wilson warned Thursday that Lockheed Martin’s new F-35 Lightning II fighter jet could wind up on the chopping block as Congress debates how to reduce the federal government’s budget by more than $1 trillion over the next decade.

Half of that amount could disappear as soon as January, when cuts to Department of Defense programs are slated to take effect.

The South Carolina congressmen spoke at a gathering aboard the aircraft carrier York- town in Mount Pleasant that showcased the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter’s advanced stealth abilities and potential global impact.

“We remain the most dominant force in the air. ... There is nothing that stands in the way of our victory as we move forward on the F-35 except for one thing, and that thing is sequestration,” Scott said, describing the automatic triggering of spending cuts to military budgets set to take effect at the beginning of next year.

“(Sequestration) stands to be a greater obstacle to the F-35 than any of the fifth-generation competition from China or Russia,” he said.

The F-35 is designed to replace aging aircraft flown by the U.S. military and several of the nation’s allies. The stealth fighter is set to be deployed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and at the Beaufort Marine Air Station.

The program is linked to more than 120 South Carolina jobs and has a $5 million economic impact annually within the state, a Lockheed Martin news release said.

“We need to make sure that we continue to put forth the resources necessary to keep our men and women out of harm’s way,” Scott said.

“This is how we preserve peace through strength, by having the latest technology capability, but we do have to be ever vigilant,” Wilson said.

Scott and Wilson experienced the jet’s advanced technology first-hand in a visually interactive cockpit simulator after speaking to about 50 people at the event.

In addition to the military cuts, a U.S. Senate committee has calculated that sequestration will cost South Carolina about $65 million in money for health screenings, education, senior nutrition, veteran’s services and employment.

The cuts are scheduled in domestic and military spending because a bipartisan congressional panel could not agree on trimming the federal budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908.