F-35B on Probation

In Aviation Week:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has put the U.S. Marine Corps’ troubled F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical landing (Stovl) Joint Strike Fighter on “probation,” while endorsing the U.S. Air Force’s long-coveted new bomber program.

The F-35A and F-35C models emerged unscathed from Gates’ review. However, the F-35B “is experiencing significant testing problems,” Gates said at the Pentagon Jan. 6.

Implying that problems are more serious than previously reported, he adds that “these issues may lead to a redesign of the aircraft’s structure and propulsion — changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either.”

Well, I thought the USAF 2018 strike bomber program would be one of the first casualties. But I doubt anyone is terribly surprised about the F-35B due to the problems its been having.


  1. We get it, Gates hates the Marine Corps.

    No new AAV’s, no new planes. Louis Johnson and Harry Truman would be proud.

  2. The F-35B is the most expensive, less capable, most maintence heavy and prone to accidents of the 3 moldes all because of the STOVL.

    It’s not about hating the marines, it’s about trying to make decisions that are economically sound where madness reigns. If the program is financial mess, it should be punished, no matter how important it was supposed to be.

    Actually this “it’s sooo important” mentality that dooms many programs and breeds the current “always late, always overbudget” culture, since the defense industry believes it can have a extremely irresponseble and costly R&D without fear of being punished, because politicians don’t want to look like they “hate the troops”.

    What make things even worse for the F-35 program is how many nations promised to buy it, so Lockheed is so confidentabout the billions no matter the mess it makes. If I were an europe nation, I would prefer to fund the next gen Gripen, the current Gripen has proved capable of defeating the F-15 and F-16 in many exercises and the swede are extremely professional and don’t take things for granted like the current american military complex.

    Remember the time that companies funded the R&D with their own money? They took something like 5 years to develop the groundbreaking and still great F-15. Now the F-35, a plane far from being exceptional, takes more than 3 times the time..

    1. “Economically sound” decisions?

      We are cutting 20,000 combat Marines and 50,000 soldiers in the middle of a war. How many civilian DOD employees are getting cut from that bloated bureaucracy? (Zero) You know, the DOD procurement experts who chose the Lockheed Martin X-35 over the Boeing X-32 because the X-35 was BETTER at S/VTOL! (Meanwhile the Corps was told not to upgrade or replace the Harrier since the DOD was going to do it for them.)

      As Otter said – “You fucked up, you trusted us!”

      So now we have a smaller Corps that won’t be able to do amphibious landings and won’t have strike fighters for their Assault Carriers. Guess where more cuts will be found.

      He damn sure hates the USMC.

  3. Well, sound in the face of the situation. And I believe we both agree that marines would benefit much more from reopening the production line of the A-10.

    But we know that the A-10 is inexpensive and makes too sense, what almost doomed its birth at first. I’d also hope the Sikorsky X2 to make its way to the troops, great concept developed without DOD bureaucracy.

  4. Can anybody point to one battle where a VSTOL jet actually made a difference?

    Maybe the Falklands. But if the Brits had a real carrier, VSTOL wouldn’t have mattered at all, IMO.

    Any place else anyone can think of?

    1. Plenty of Harrier strikes in the Gulf War – heard and saw a few myself. Obviously didn’t make a big difference in the overall outcome.

      In 1992 the USS Tripoli and her squadron of Harriers landed Marines in Somalia. As long as Marines were there, they had close-air support waiting just offshore.

      When the Marines left with their Harriers (and AAV and LAV’s), the Somalia Militias went after the more lightly equiped Rangers hard. Unfortunately they didn’t have Harriers sitting offshore (or the M1’s they requested and Les Aspin denied).

      1. Somalia is a good example where VSTOL jets can help.

        But still, it seems almost like a solution looking for a problem these days.

  5. I can see a force like the Royal Navy needing a Harrier-type v/stol plane since they don’t have full-sized carriers. But do the Marines need Harrier-type aircraft? Their amphibious assault ships only carry about 6 Harriers. And it’s inconceivable that the Marines would conduct an amphibious operation without the presence of at least 1 to 2 USN carriers with the all the aircraft they would bring. Additionally, depending upon where the operation is, USAF aircraft, both strategic and tactical, would also be available. So having 6 v/stol jets on an amphibious ship is probably not worth the extra cost of development, maintenance and the penalty paid because of the reduced performance versus conventional aircraft.

    Some might say that the Marines would need the v/stol planes to be based in forward areas on land. In the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq 2003, the Marines with their Hornets and the other services with their conventional jets provided the necessary air support for all land forces. Add to that the large fleet of Army Apaches and Marine Cobras, and I don’t see the need for a reduced performance v/stol jet.

    Now, if we are talking about a nation that doesn’t already have the assets of our Navy and AF, then the Harrier and F-35B might be good choices. But they are not good choices given all the other inventory that the US taxpayers have invested in. I am not saying that the Harrier or F-35B are bad planes. If you like planes, you have to admit they are impressive. But if you have a high range of capable aircraft from attack helicopters on up to strategic bombers, the value of these planes is not worth it.

    Additionally, the Marines have wasted a ton on the Osprey. The Army was the originator of this project, but bailed out years ago. The Marines complain their helicopters are aging, but they have had the opportunity to select the finest troop transport around in the Black Hawk. Why the marines have not ordered their version of it is beyond me. The efficiencies we would gain from larger production runs to a simpler supply chain would be enormous.

    1. The idea of a Tarawa, Wasp, and America class amphibious assault ship is to carry a self-contained Marine Expeditionary Unit. If other carriers are available, great but not necessary. Everything including helicopters, tanks, LAV’s, and a 600 bed hostipal is included.

      The Wasp class carries 6 Harriers. The America class is being designed to carry 10 F35B’s.

      I think the F-35 program is a waste. Stealth Eagles and Grippens could do the job if a naval variants were available.

      1. My point was that I can’t imagine a force like the one you described going alone into a contested area. Maybe it might go alone into some backwater like Liberia, but then again, I don’t support nation building exercises, so to me they don’t count.

        If it were to go into any area where a real force was expected to oppose it, you’d have to have the support of navy carriers or land-based air force jets, or both, to protect those ships and to help protect the fores on the ground once they landed. That being said, it would make more sense to base more helicopters on those ships and remove the jets. You can always base USMC squadrons on conventional carriers and free up the precious deck space for more troop carrying helicopters.

    2. Back in my Marine days I heard that they were not ordering Blackhawks because of the deck-space to passenger/cargo ratio. Blackhawks just took up more space per Marine than Sea Stallions and Sea Knights. Desk space is more expensive than helicopters.

      1. The unintentional, but most accurate statement of the century!

        “Desk space is more expensive than helicopters.”

        How do we cut the hundreds of thousands of DOD related desk jockeys?

  6. Gates’ decision was long overdue. I like the capabilities of the B model as much as anyone, but it is the reason that the whole program is so far behind. For whatever reason, the Marines had priority in development of their F-35 variant, and it has slowed down the A and C models from their maturation. It’s like letting the most retarded kid in class dictate the pace of teaching (which, incidentally, is also true).

    The Marines are supposed to be a fairly light strike force. Their two most prized programs were hideously over budget and behind schedule. That doesn’t even count the Osprey, which somehow limped into production and operation after a couple of decades of development. I feel for them, but really think that after fifteen years of development and cost overruns, it’s time to think about cutting back expectations and work on fielding something more modest that can be deployed rapidly.

    And personally, I second the Grippen idea, not just for Europe but our own Air Force. The newest model of it is as capable as anything we have, minus most of the stealth and some of the Avionics. Oh, and it costs way less too. I know us procuring it is at 0%, but a move like that could really shake up the domestic defense industry, and put highly capable fighters on the tarmac quickly.

    1. If Saab could get a component of the Grippen manufactered in every Congressional district, they would sell like hotcakes.

      1. Too depressingly true. Defense procurement as corporate welfare and political pork means probably nothing will ever change.

  7. RETARD is not a politically correct word.

    Please use Intellectually challenged in the future so as not to offend those who are struggling with mental problems.

    You know, like the Commander-in-Chief and Kenyan-American and head Bawana!

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