Eager Marines to Deploy Early Version of JSF While Navy and Air Force Wait

Senator Joe Lieberman assembled a panel of the leading Navy, Marine and Air Force aviation buyers and planners at yesterday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services AirLand subcommittee to discuss the status of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Vice. Adm. David Architzel, the Navy’s point man on research and procurement, said that with the latest JSF program restructuring, and a “maturing” production line, he believes Lockheed Martin can deliver the jets without further cost and schedule impacts, and the Navy can begin to “recapture” progress on the program. The 2011 defense budget requested $6.1 billion in research and development and procurement for 20 JSF aircraft (13 F-35B Marine variants and 7 F-35C carrier versions).

Architzel emphasized that no fundamental technology or manufacturing problems have been discovered, and he provided updates on F-35 flight testing.

Four system development and demonstration (SDD) jets are in flight tests. The initial Air Force version (AA-1) has flown 91 sorties, as of the end of March. BF-1, the first STOVL version, has flown more than 40 sorties and completed a vertical landing. BF-2, BF-3 and BF-4 are all now at Patuxent River and all have flown a number of sorties.

Architzel said the initial STOVL/F-35B test aircraft have “required little postflight work.” The F-35C carrier version is undergoing structural drop testing of simulated carrier landings.

The Marines project Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the F-35B in December 2012; IOC for the Marines is defined as a squadron of ten aircraft in the Block 2B version able to perform the full range of combat operations and deploy on amphibs. IOC for the Navy, projected to be 2016, is a little more nebulous, being based on “sufficient” aircraft quantities.

Lieberman asked Marine Corps aviation chief, Lt. Gen. George Trautman, if he wasn’t taking a risk by fielding a squadron of Block 2B aircraft instead of waiting for the Block 3 version, like the Navy and Air Force. The F-35B is so much more capable than the AV-8 Harrier squadron it will be replacing that “its an easy decision to make” Trautman said. It will give Marine air component commanders their first ever stealthy STOVL aircraft operating off Marine amphibs.

-- Greg

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