MARINE CORPS NEWS
Marine Corps Wants F-35Bs Delivered Faster
PARIS — The Marine Corps, which plans to purchase hundreds of F-35 joint strike fighters, wants them to be delivered quicker, the service's deputy commandant for aviation said June 20 at the Paris Air Show.
“We could use airplanes faster,” said Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, who will be retiring in a few weeks. “We’re flying some of the oldest tactical aircraft — the strike fighters — in the naval inventory.”
The Marine Corps plans to purchase 420 F-35s, of which 353 will be the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant and 67 F-35 carrier variants, he said during a briefing at the show, which is being held at Le Bourget Airport. These will replace aging aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B II Harrier.
Both systems are reaching the end of their service lives, he said. The average age of the Hornet is 26 years, he added.
In a perfect world Lockheed Martin would produce 37 F-35Bs per year, Davis said. However, budgetary issues make that unlikely even though the company has said it could support such a number.
“Bottom line, with the budgets the way … [they are] right now, we can’t recapitalize everything. I’m recapitalizing F-35s, CH-53Ks, C-130s, H-1s, V-22s all at the same time,” he said.
The procurement of the V-22 Osprey is winding down, which will assist with the F-35 ramp-up, he said. Additional funding from Congress would help boost the F-35 numbers. “We would be very appreciative of anything we can get … from our elected leadership,” he added.
Next year, the Marine Corps will have the money to purchase 20 F-35Bs, he said. While the aircraft will be in high demand, 420 platforms are enough to meet the service’s requirements, he said. “It has been 420 for some time, and we intend to stay at 420 F-35s,” he added.
The F-35 will provide a marked increased in capability for the Marine Corps, Davis noted.
“Operationally, the F-35 is giving us tremendous capability in every realm — air-to-air, air-to-ground strike. ... It is the most capable airplane that we’ve ever fielded," he said.
“We’re just scratching the surface of what we can do with this airplane,” he added. “It gives us that ability to land on a small ship, land on a forward operating base [and] basically extend the reach, depth and breadth and agility of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
So far, the Marine Corps has stood up two F-35B squadrons — VMFA-121 and VMFA-211. Both will be deployed alongside Marine expeditionary units within a year, he said. “They are ready for worldwide global tasking for contingency operations now — and if need be — ready to go deploy and fight,” he said.
The next five squadrons will be converted F-18 squadrons, with four becoming F-35B squadrons and one being an F-35C, the Navy's carrier variant, he added.
The F-35B is also an important platform for the United Kingdom, which is a joint strike fighter program partner nation, said Rear Adm. Keith Blount, assistant chief of naval staff for aviation, amphibious capability and carriers for the Royal Navy.
The fighter will be flown off the nation’s new aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, he said. The Queen Elizabeth could be deployed this month, with the Prince of Wales following in 18 months.
“We believe the QE to be a true fifth-gen carrier built from the keel up to accommodate fifth-gen fighter aircraft, and we’re very proud to say that the F-35B will be the aircraft of choice,” he said.
The STOVL variant is ideal for the types of missions the nation flies, he added.
“The opportunities and potential of this airframe are almost endless. So we see ourselves right at the very forefront of jet aircraft and carrier strike capability by blending the Queen Elizabeth-class with the F-35,” he said.