Amos: F-35B Won’t Be Ready for Ops by 2012

Well, it finally happened. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos this week confirmed that Marines’ F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter won’t be operationally ready by 2012.

From Politico:

On the F-35B: Not satisfied. “I’d like to see it farther along in the test program, but we are where we are,” he said. “This is a complicated airplane, and we’re going to work our way through the issues. I’m absolutely convinced of that.” He said the Corps would scrap 2012 as the date when its plane would be ready to fly.

From Bloomberg:

The decision means the Marines join the Air Force and Navy in pulling back on their combat-readiness goals for the biggest Pentagon weapons project. The Marine Corps had maintained its schedule, even with new delays on the JSF, when the Air Force and Navy reset their timetables this year to 2016.

Reaching the Marines’ so-called initial combat capability, a squadron of 10 jets and fully trained crew, is a benchmark of progress in the $382 billion F-35 program. Other steps include finishing development and combat tests; a smooth transition to full production; and an efficient manufacturing process.

“I had hoped that it would be farther along” in the flight-test program, Amos said. “This is a complicated airplane. We are going to work ourselves through the issues.”

All of this comes as the Pentagon is pouring over the results of what’s supposedly the most thorough review the JSF program has ever seen. That project, known as the Technical Baseline Review, will lay out a new schedule and financial benchmarks for the program which some say is about to face even more delays and cost overruns.

As to be expected, it looks like the Marines are still committed to maintaining the ability to fly off small carriers and austere locations despite recent moves by the RAF and Itialian air force slashing their buys of short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35s.

But, how much of an edge does the B’s STOVL ability give the Marines? Is it worth the delays as the service continues to fly aging F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers? How much money will it cost to keep those jets in service past the early part of the decade?

  • Benjamin

    Has one aircraft program come in on time and under budget in the last 20 years?

    That being said I am glad to see that the USMC is sticking with the F-35B. The performance difference between this aircraft and the Harrier is greater then any other aircraft the F-35 is replacing.

    • Jacob

      I think maybe the F/A-18 did….either the standard one or the Super Hornet, I forget which.

  • Oblat

    Another review, another baseline, another set of benchmarks. The bar just keeps on being set lower and lower and still they fail.

  • STemplar

    It’s also replacing the F-18 for the USMC. Im not convinced that the corps needs a stealth strike fighter. It’s not tasked with SEADs type missions.

    • SMSgt Mac

      WTFO? You don’t need to be flying a SEAD/DEAD mission to get shot AT. You don’t even need an IADS.

      • @Earlydawn

        That’s not the point. You don’t need a stealth strike aircraft for CAS. You need a mud mover with good ordinance and time on station.

      • STemplar

        No but what else would you be doing stealthy? Stealthy CAS? Seems kind of oxymoronic, since at those ranges you’d be engaged by SAM with IR seekers and stealth does you zero good. If the corps is going to conduct proper CAS it is going to be carrying external weapons which blows stealth away (again, not that the corps needs stealth anyway), so why they F-35B? If the missions you need stealth for aren’t ones the USMC conducts, and to do the kinds of missions they do conduct you have to have external weapon loads which negate the stealth, pray tell why do they need $100+ million dollar stealth tacair?

  • SMSgt Mac

    Obvously, the Marines still think they are on the right course. How they manage the program risk of their variant is their business. (But let’s not let that get in the way of a good harummphing from the casual observers).

    Tip: If a rational observer couldn’t explain the role of Technology Readiness Levels in managing the inherent risk of acquiring advanced weapon systems, they wouldn’t even be tempted to opine on the subjects of F-35 schedule, costs, and risks.

    • STemplar

      Actually no, as tax payers who elect representatives in a federal republic it is quite ok, in fact a citizen’s duty in my opinion, to question those serving us.

  • blight

    So the Marines won’t ditch SVTOL just yet. There’s always limited procurement while they’re still in testing, but such a set up did not make the Osprey very popular. So…

  • jemc50

    Hang in there, Devil Dogs. The V/STOL capability of the F-35B will be a hallmark of Marine capability. The F-18 requires a fixed runway or carrier and it has it’s place in the Marine mission. However, the F-35B can be flown from an LHA and will be the extra punch needed by a MEU when things get hot for the grunts by replacing the AV-8.

    Where an aircraft carrier can be strategic, the F-35B on an LHA gives the Marines a tactical integrity when being called in as the 911 force.

    • Maybe-I-know

      Do they really deploy the LHAs without an aircraft carrier? Aren’t the aircraft carrier battle groups the real 911 force?

    • think forward

      Screw deployment from an LHA. I don’t understand why military planners don’t consider the fact that F35-B’s don’t need a 1/2 mile paved runway to conduct operations. Picture needing to provide air cover in a remote, underdeveloped area. Instead of depending on a stationed aircraft carrier, or “nearby” modern airstrip, you could just take over a port and have enough clear area to deploy a few squadrons of F35’s. No need even for a local air strip.

      • @Joe_Schmoe12

        And put a $150+ Million dollar airplane in an open field within range of enemy artillery?

        And pray tell me how do you plan on keeping said airplanes supplied and fueled as well as any repairs.

        I don’t think you have thought that one through.

        • SMSgt Mac

          RE: “And put a $150+ Million dollar airplane in an open field within range of enemy artillery?”
          Putting aside the bogus, highly inflated cost assumption, there is no artillery that can reach a quarter of the combat radius of the F-35B.

          RE: “I don’t think you have thought that one through.”
          That is called ‘pro-ject-ion’. ‘Glass houses’. ‘Stones’.
          And Remember Folks! You can’t say ‘Twitter’ without ‘Twit’.

      • @Joe_Schmoe12

        Because six F-35B’s will make a real dent in any country with an air force… right.

        • TMB

          Exactly. What are 6 aircraft going to do? Especially that requires a stealth approach? When have 6 Harriers mattered where more Cobras that weren’t maintenance hogs could have done as well or better? Those F-35Bs are only going to fly a few sorties per bird per week with the maintenance issues they’ll have. I love the Corps and it has its place on the battlefield, but the Harrier never really lived up to the hype and that’s all the F35B is - a more expensive Harrier.

        • @Earlydawn

          Are six to eight F-35Bs going to be able to provide effective CAS in a hostile air environment? Seems like they’d be busy chasing hostile aircraft around.

        • Maybe-I-know

          When was the last time an MEU saw any action? Why would we ever send an MEU instead of an aircraft battle group?

        • @Joe_Schmoe12

          No.

          Assuming each F-35B has 4X AA missiles in internal (stealth) loadout, that means your entire air cover has only 24 AA missiles.

          The AIM-120D has an 85% reliability rate, which means about 1 in every 5 missiles will be a dud. , the AIM-120 has achieved 10 BVR kills from 17 shots – a Pk or “kill probability” of 0.59 (59 percent) against benign or “dumb” targets (i.e. - Drones like the QF-4). No AIM-120 has been tested let alone operationally employed against a target with a panoply of defensive measures, so the kill ratio of the AIM-120 in modern air combat may well be much less than the operational 0.59 Pk experienced to date.

          So now your 24 missiles have now turned into around 13-14 effective missiles. And that is assuming all the planes are in the air yet!

          Still want to take a crack at an enemy force?

          P.S. - In strike role, the F-35 can only carry 2X AA and 2X JDAM. Really good use of resources for CAS eh?

          • @Joe_Schmoe12

            Even assuming ten F-35B’s at best, you are still left with around ~21 effective missiles. This is not going to stop anyone with an air force from getting close enough to launch on your ships. In CAS role that number drops down to 12 missiles.

            So the question still stands, of what use are the F-35Bs?

    • blight

      Helicopters or tilt-rotor gunships might be the way to go in the future, instead of depending on seemingly-impossible-to-make SVTOL JSF-B.

  • Jacob

    You know, when was the last time the Marines even used their Harriers? I think there’s a good reason the Navy doesn’t use the Harrier, what with its complexity and high accident rate. And with modern precision weapons and UAVs, you don’t need forward-based VTOL aircraft as much anymore. B-52’s can deliver JDAMs and act as flying artillery batteries while Predators and Reapers fill the sky like gnats. I don’t think our ground forces will be lacking in air support anytime soon.

  • elgatoso

    Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) In September 2006, the Avengers again deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Al Asad Air Base
    VMA-214 Beginning in May 2009, a detachment from VMA-214 deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit
    VMA-223 deployed to Iraq late in the summer of 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During a combat mission over Iraq on February 10, 2006 the squadron surpassed the 60,000 Class A mishap-free hours mark
    VMA-231 n November 2009 the squadron deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom

    • Oblat

      None of which used VSTOL.

      • Mike

        VSTOL helps with Maneuver warfare… but we have already taken the ground, and just need to clean it up.

      • Curt

        Yeah, you can really fly off the 13th MEUs LHD with no problem without STOVL.

      • Ano8

        We never use the nukes in the Ohio class.We should get rid of them too???And the Minuteman???

      • Elgatoso

        Better have’ and don’t need’ that need’ and don’t hav’

      • D.E GYSGT

        Your repley shows you know nothing about the Marine Corps! Thoese squadrons mentioned are all equipped with VSTOL aircraft!!!!

  • elgatoso

    VMA-311 In 2008, they deployed in support of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, while simultaneously sending a detachment of Marines and Harriers to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom
    VMA-311 In February 2006, the Flying Nightmares were deployed to Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, to provide close air ground support for ground units in the Iraq area. The squadron flew 4519 combat hours with a sortie completion rate of over 95%. On May 11, 2006, VMA-513 became the first Harrier unit to drop a JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) in combat when it struck targets with a GBU-38 500 lb JDAM.

  • elgatoso

    VMA-542 The squadron deployed to Al Asad Airbase in Al Anbar Province in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom during 2007-8

  • Curt

    Given that there is usually a USMC squadron attached to every CVW, it really doesn’t make sense to have every USMC aircraft be a F-35B. It would seem to make far more sense to purchase about 160 F-35Bs to replace the 126 AV-8Bs in service and the balance of the purchases be F-35Cs for the USMC F-18 squadrons on the CVWs. Although not optimal, you would still generate huge economies of scale by having two varients of the F-35 instead of multiple completely different aircraft. How many contigencies will require more than 100 or so F-35Bs at one time?

  • Tony C

    The old addage, one size fits all doesn’t really work very well for aircraft design.
    The one aircraft for three services is a buzz word for bean counters, but the compromise to make one aircraft do everything is showing up now on this program. The F-35 program is
    behind schedule and over budget due to the extreme complexity of the air frame and avionics. That doesn’t bode well for combat reliability. The F-35 is an expensive bomb truck to replace the F-16, F-18, and AV-8B. Maybe it’s time to seperate the F-35B out of the mix and concentrate on the F-35A and F-35C. Then the Air Force and Navy stand a chance at getting a good platform. The Navy is still without a high performance fighter, but at least they are looking to fix that issue with the X-47B program. The day teh UCAV can out fight a manned fighter of the MIG-29 or SU-27 caliber, there is no need for a manned high performance fighter.

    • Sanem

      “The day teh UCAV can out fight a manned fighter of the MIG-29 or SU-27 caliber, there is no need for a manned high performance fighter.”

      X-47B + VLO + AMRAAM + $30 mil a piece = 2025?

      little more than flying missile batteries, but it’ll be like bringing a sniper rifle to a revolver duel in the dessert

  • Coolhand77

    The problem right now is, that the B is the only plane in the pipeline that can replace the Harrier. Marines don’t want to lose that capability. I don’t blame them.

    How flight ready was the X-32 STOVL variant? Would it have been easier to get to combat readiness than the X-35 to F35B? I know it was a rather unconventional looking guppy, but the dynamics of the flight systems were well known [used the same lift systems as the Harrier IIRC].

    Just saying.

  • John Moore

    $382 billion hhow many raptors does that buy?

    $382 billion how many banks does that buy? about half what the USA has to offer /

    • Sanem

      my thought exactly :D

      2728 at $140 milion per copy
      3820 at $100 milion per copy

      in the mean while, the first operational F-35 has yet to be paid for :p

  • Coolhand77




    Hmmm, perhaps I should have checked youtube before I said anything. While the 35 is still trying to get an operational STOVL where they want it, the Boeing X32 was already doing that back during the competition….and no barn door. Yah, it looks like someone crossed an A7 Corsair with the YF23 or the A12 concept [the flying dorito, not the CIA version of the SR71]

    They had theirs working over 3 years ago…how did the 35 get the contract again?

    Just sayin.

  • Coolhand77

    Oh, and I’d like to add, the X32 engine system was similar to the AV8’s ducted thrust system. Less doors and hinges and hydrolics means more cargo capacity.

    Yah, its ugly, but it worked

  • Benjamin

    I have never heard of a MEU going out with an aircraft carrier group at all.

  • tee

    The F-35 Target Prices Reveled. OUCH!!!!!!
    Quote from Aviation Week today by Graham Warwick
    “According to the Joint Program Office (JPO), the recently signed LRIP 4 contract sets a target price of $111.6 million for the CTOL F-35A, $109.4 million for the STOVL F-35B and $142.9 million for the F-35C carrier variant. These prices do not include the F135 engine, as Pratt & Whitney is still negotiating its LRIP 4 contract.”

    Based on Pratt’s announced contract, puts the LRIP 3 price at around $19 million for the CTOL engine and $38 million for the STOVL engine including Rolls-Royce lift system.

    Under the terms of the LRIP 4 contract, Lockheed and the Pentagon will share any costs above the target price 50:50, with a ceiling on what the government would have to pay of 120%. So an F-35A could cost the DoD up to $133.9 million and an F-35B up to $131.3 million (again, that excludes engines). Beyond that Lockheed carries the cost.

    link :http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/index.jsp?plckController=Blog&plckBlogPage=BlogViewPost&newspaperUserId=27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a-01329aef79a7&plckPostId=Blog%3a27ec4a53-dcc8-42d0-bd3a-01329aef79a7Post%3a297ae22b-6b6b-4405-a7a3-e6261eba3e7f&plckScript=blogScript&plckElementId=blogDest

    • SMSgt Mac

      LOL! Could you have cherry picked that article any more carefully?
      Also interleaved among the above were:

      “That means the per-unit cost of the F-35A (excluding engine) will have almost halved from LRIP 1 to LRIP 4, if Lockheed achieves the target prices. We don’t have equivalent figures for the engines, but a rough calculation, based on Pratt’s announced contract, puts the LRIP 3 price at around $19 million for the CTOL engine and $38 million for the STOVL engine including Rolls-Royce lift system. Pratt offered a price reduction of at least 10% for LRIP 4 and has likely been pushed lower as it has also gone to a fixed-price contract.”
      and…
      “Lockheed Martin maintains it can get down to a unit recurring flyaway (URF) cost for the CTOL F-35A of around $60 million once in full-rate production. The JPO’s per-unit target costs include some items not directly associated with building production aircraft, and are higher than Lockheed’s undisclosed URF for LRIP 4, but the company tells Amy that the two prices are on the same cost-reduction curve.”

      • tee

        Your right, but no matter how you look at it, it’s no where near the 60 million LM promised , and LM can only meet those goals” COUGH” if all participating country’s buy all their original number of fighters. Lets see the UK just canceled how many? Now they may buy 40 F-35C’s instead of 138 F-35B’s, how many other nations will soon be dropping out. Italy,Netherlands,Spain etc. LM will never get the full number of planes in the (original) bids in order to get that price down anywhere near $60 million. They just lost 98 (UK) in the last couple of months. They will be very lucky if they get it down to the last cost of the F-22. $120 million Right now the F-35A $128.4 , F-35B $149.6 and the F-35C $161.9 without any cost over runs “COUGH” not likely.

        • SMSgt Mac

          Average flyaway costs are just that: ‘average’. We’ll see how close it is when we get to the end of the line. In the interim, all variants are tracking below the estimated ‘cost line’ (you’d never know it from the theme promoted by the haters) , the slope of which is driven by the learning curve and production rates
          1. Are you aquainted with ‘then-year dollars’ vs now-year dollars?
          2. Are you allowing for the requirements-change driven costs?
          3. Are you allowing for GOOD unit cost rise that results in lower total life cycle costs?
          4. Are you allowing for lot changes to-date? (It takes money to keep a factory open if you build no planes or many, and money if you change the mix of types)
          Here’s something to think about that’ll blow the ‘experts’ away. The total buy could probably be reduced by 500+ units at the END of production without increasing the final average unit cost, because it would reduce the need to recapitalize the production capability (retool for wear, tear, obsolescence). The key is getting production volume up to limit overhead cost/unit as quickly as the learning curve will let you. How’s that cough now?

  • tee

    Also I think someone at Aviation Week got the number nixed up. I would think the A model would be the least expensive followed by the C model and the B model would be the most costly. And if I’m right that would make the F-35B’s $180.9 million and the F-35C’s $130.9 million.

    • @Earlydawn

      Yeah, I’ve never understood why the C is continually cited as the most expensive variant. It seems like the B would be the likely candidate, given the lack of common parts it must have.

  • jemc50

    I’m curious about the maneuverability of the F-35 and whether it has the same VIFing capability as the Harrier.

  • blight

    Hum, another AvWeek article for today:
    http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?…

    It sounds like they were doing serial development of each JSF variant, and that A is done, B is almost done and C is under development, which is why -B is coming in at ~109 mil and C is quoted at 140. However the price difference between VTOL and CTOL engine systems is ~20 million.

    Wish I could find some firmer variant numbers…

  • nonito d. cabato

    continue flight testing of F-35B that why it call a flying test prototype plane, its goals is to determine flight worthiness, its aerodynamic performance, the other goal is to test it until it break so we can make necessary correction what went wrong those idiot who make accusation don’t know anything about flight testing so continue the testing….

    if you want cut cost in the military, cut many bases around the world, stop sending aids to other country for the AIR FORCE buy 650 F-22A block 35 increment 3.3 version plane, 1,000 F-35B planes for the tactical air force and 300 2018 bomber with bomb load capacity of 32,000 lbs load that’s a total of 1,950 combat planes only for the navy 350 ships is enough and F-22N fighter about 550 planes this is enough to defend the mainland united states the army number and equipment is already enough to defend the mainland for the marines give them 400 F-35B’s and 3 full strength division with the right equiptment

    let other nation to defend their country if they CAN’T then they have nor right to be a nation