Last week, the Navy and Marines put on a PR show for the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, bringing a host of reporters aboard the USS Wasp to watch F-35Bs perform short take-offs and vertical landings aboard the ship. This came during the Bravo's final week of sea trials and, perhaps more importantly, one week after Chairman of the Joint Chefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told lawmakers that the military may not be able to buy all three variants of the JSF.
The Marines' F-35B is largley viewed as the most likely version to be cut. It was facing so many development delays and cost overruns in recent years that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates placed the B-model on a two year probation last April.
While initial press reports about the jet's sea trials were mostly positive, Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information -- a longtime F-35 foe -- claims that the test birds encountered the following difficulties during sea trials:
1) Apparently, the two F-35Bs involved in the sea trials had been diverted to Patuxent River to be repaired the previous week—presumably for fixes the crew on the Wasp were unable to perform. One of the aircraft flying the displays for the press, BF-4, broke (again) after the media event. The upper lift fan door actuator—a component that was supposed to have been fixed already—apparently had a problem. It turns out the actuator has to be redesigned yet again.If true, Wheeler's first point having to do with the lift fan door may (or may not) be a big deal depending on how serious the redesign will be.
2) When asked about maintenance on the Wasp, officials speaking on behalf of the F-35 did not say that more maintenance had been taking place than had been planned. It is not clear if that does or does not mean the extra maintenance that took place at Patuxent River.
3) Despite at least one media writer’s descriptions of impressive landing parameters during the displays, I am informed that the effects of the Wasp’s structure were causing the ship to slow down because the handling qualities resulting from the wind coming around that structure were not what they expected.
4) The testing was planned for a two week period, but it ran on into a third week. It would be interesting to know if there was anything beyond the extra maintenance that explains this.
Last week, press reports quoted program officials as saying that minor problems encountered during sea trials were quickly fixed and that they didn't impact the test schedule.
We've got calls and emails in to the F-35 program office and will let you know what we hear back from them.
In the meantime, enjoy the video of two F-35Bs operating from the Wasp, after the jump.