So, it looks like 2011 will be the year when the U.S. military’s 21st century tactical aviation fleet really starts (and yes, it’s just the start) to take shape. Earlier this week we told you how the Air Force is set to receive its first training F-35s later this year. Now, the Navy’s EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets are making their first deployment, according to an announcement made yesterday by Growler-maker, Boeing.
Remember, the Growlers are replacing the ancient fleet of EA-6B Prowlers as the Navy’s electronic attack aircraft. As the Air Force rounds out its fleet of F-22s and starts to take deliveries of its first production F-35s this year, we’ll start seeing the long awaited shift in the makeup of the U.S. tacair fleet toward the 21st Century.
While many doubt that the F-35 is going to come on line, yesterday’s testimony by top defense officials made it clear that the Air Force’s and Navy versions of the jet are going to become a reality after years of struggle.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ decision to delay production of the Marines F-35B “actually puts us in a better position to deliver the Navy and the Air Force version sooner because those two versions are actually doing pretty well in testing and development,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen
The troubled Bravo model of the jet, which was supposed to be the first model of the F-35 to enter service, “was holding up the development of the other two airplanes,” added Mullen.
The first Air Force F-35As will arrive at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida starting in May and the first Navy jets, the F-35C will arrive at the base in FY-12, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
While the jet isn’t being fielded as fast as originally hoped, “I believe the airplane is going to be the centerpiece of our tactical fleet in due course,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz during a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday.
All this points to a U.S. military equipped in the coming years with fewer overall fighters yet a far more advanced fleet than even a decade ago. Yes, the fifth gen jets like the F-35 and F-22 have had their teething issues, and will continue to do so, but serious progress is never easy. These jets will bring revolutionary technology into service while upgraded and modernized F-15s and F-16s that have already proven themselves will back them up for years to come. This points to a very strong tacair fleet in the coming decades.