One day before the House Armed Services Committee holds a major hearing on the F-35 program, the Navy and Marines unveiled a memo committing them to buying both the carrier and STOVL versions of the Joint Strike Fighter.
The memo “is a demonstration the secretary and chief of naval operations and the commandant are committed to the success of both the F-35 B and C variants," Thomas Laux, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for aviation programs, said this afternoon. "This plan depends on the success of both.”
Laux said this memo -- signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos -- was a revision to a 2002 memorandum of understanding which set the now-unchanged goal of buying 680 F-35s. That memo did not set out how many STOVL or carrier versions the Navy and Marines would buy.
Given that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has placed the F-35B on "probation" for two years today's statement of commitment by the Navy and Marines to the aircraft is notable.
Laux hinted that the Marines and Navy had had differing visions of how many of which planes they would buy: "I think there were a number of original intentions which did not all reconcile." This memo addresses those issues.
A related memo for the record sets out how many aircraft of which type will be bought in which fiscal year. it does not change the rate or number from those presently planned in the administration's latest budget request.
Tomorrow's HASC hearing is likely to also address the F136, second engine for the F-35. You get a hint from one of the headings in the staff memo on the hearing: "Misinformation on the F136 alternate engine from the Administration." The memo repeats familiar arguments of HASC leadership and staff, who have consistently supported the GE/Rolls Royce engine: "The budget request did not include funding for the F-35 alternate engine program despite past Congressional support for the program. In February 2010, the Department of Defense submitted an updated business case analysis on the F-35 alternate engine program which concluded that the net present value life cycle cost of a one-engine or two-engine competitive F-35 engine program are the same."