Up in the Air

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After publicly pledging to bring back the F-22 Raptor , and then having campaign surrogates adjust his message in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is now keeping “any and all options on the table” when it comes to the Air Force’s future fleet of tactical fighters.

“Governor Romney is committed to maintaining American airpower that is second to none. Our airmen are flying the smallest and oldest fleet in Air Force history,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul tells Aviation Week in an email. “He will keep any and all options on the table to ensure our airmen are flying planes worthy of the incredible mission they perform on our behalf.”

Romney told Virginia Beach, Va., television station WAVY in September that he would like to “add more” F-22s . Reaction to the comment ran the gamut from head-scratching to glowing support and outright opposition on Capitol Hill. Defense analysts including the Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson noted that Romney made the appeal at the Military Aviation Museum, a stone’s throw from Air Combat Command at Langley AFB.

Then, Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller and the campaign’s most visible defense surrogate , told defense reporters in Washington recently that the campaign had corrected itself to mean the F-35.

Now, the campaign isn’t saying exactly what Romney would do, other than maintain air power.

It’s not the first time during the campaign that a defense message has been reversed. In July, President Barack Obama directly contradicted his own fiscal 2013 budget request. “You know, I don’t think now is the time for BRAC, we just went through some base closings and the strategy that we have does not call for that,” Obama said in an interview with WAVY.

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