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.
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.
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?