For the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force the tac-air mess known as the "fighter-gap", was totally avoidable.
The fighter-gap is based on the idea that the military has not bought enough aircraft to support operations into the future years. Fighter aircraft are getting old and so on. Yet, the responsibility for this problem rests on the shoulders of the military. It is senior leadership's fault and no-one else.
The military believed the F-35 concurrency lie. That is that the F-35 could be built cheap in high numbers, early and any development problems along the way would be fixed up. The risks in relation to the complexity of the program were waved away with a can-do attitude or ignored.
If the F-35 program was built without that concurrency nightmare that deeply worries the current DOD F-35 program manager, there would be less risk. The people that have been consistently accurate (for years) about these risks--The Government Accounting Office (GAO)--even told us so.
Counting airframes, motors and military construction, in procurement dollars alone, the F-35 program from U.S. fiscal year budget 2007 to 2012, will have cost us $29.2B.
Instead, the Navy could have used their $14B to procure 186 extra Block II Super Hornets. Probably several more if they could commit to only buying single-seaters. Combined with their existing multi-year buy, most of the legacy Hornets on our big aircraft carriers could have been replaced.
Instead of buying LRIP F-35 mistake-jets, the USAF could have used their $15B to procure 214 F-16s.
The USMC? Their Harriers are good to go until around 2023-24. Oh, they didn't tell you that?
Once F-16 and F-18 numbers got up to reasonable health, low-rate production of both the F-16 and F-18 could continue. No fighter-gap.
And the F-35? It would still be in development. Until it was mature enough for production.