I keep rotating back to David Axe's article in War is Boring (here). This part stood out to me...
...Stillion concluded that sensors and missiles are more important than speed and maneuverability.An "ad hoc" version of Stillion's proposal is possible now!
The E-2D's sensors and along with the "air defense network" that they're developing should be able to allow the F-18's to launch at the AMRAAMs maximum distance. Since its been demonstrated that the C model could lift a total of 10 AMRAAMs along with 2 Sidewinders, the weak link isn't sensors.
The weak link is aerial refueling.
Unfortunately that situation is compounded with the Navy's selection of the MV-22. IF the Navy had gone with the S-3 Viking solution then we could see a work around that arrives at Stillion's proposal today.
Of course upgraded engines and conformal fuel tanks could help mitigate the tanking shortfall (yep, I'm pitching the Advanced Super Hornet) and barring that stationing KC-130's around the Pacific (along with Air Force tankers...not sure if they'd be willing to participate) at friendly air fields could also help (that opens up a new can of worms...would the S. Koreans let us launch planes to help defend Japan?) but the point remains.
If the E-2D can be tweaked to a level where it can spot Chinese stealth planes at distance....IF the AMRAAM can be improved to a point where it can hit at over 100 miles with reliability...IF the tanking issue can be worked out....
Then the Super Hornet can keep the few F-35's that are forced down the Navy's throat from being clubbed like baby seals.
Sidenote: I realize that the Super Hornet does buddy refueling. I think that's a waste. Why take a shooter out of the fight? We have the deck space to carry a section of S-3 Tankers aboard each carrier....the benefits outweigh the cost.