The ambitious F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program took a huge step last week when the Pentagons top acquisition official, Kenneth Krieg, approved of the first low rate production lot for the conventional takeoff and landing version of the aircraft.
Krieg approved money for two new CTOL jets, but more importantly, he also approved funds for long-lead items to produce six of the jump jet STOVL versions of the JSF.
Thats got to warm the heart of the Marine Corps, which, as most of you know, decided against the hedge-play the Navy made in buying the F/A-18E/F(and G), instead counting on the STOVL Lightning II to replace their tactical aircraft fleet of AV-8B Harriers.
A couple months ago, the Navys top acquisition official, Delores Etter, said the STOVL JSF remains a top priority for Navy buyers. Kriegs move lends weight to the Marines case (as does the international pressure to produce the plane). The Corps put all its eggs in one basket and, at least for now, it seems their gamble is paying off.
But the proof is in the pudding. Will the STOVL JSF be able to shrug off its weight problems and other technological roadblocks? Will the Navy continue to funnel scarce resources into a program that the sea service may conclude is of marginal importance given continued TacAir integration initiatives and congressional momentum to boost shipbuilding?
Well have to stay tuned on that. But at least for now, the Corps can rest a little easier because the moneys there to start building their new jump jets and the programs international partners have a reason not to cast their eyes about for another alternative.