I get a kick out of all the doubts being voiced concerning the affordability of this program, all the while nobody is putting forth alternatives or taking a hard stance against it. No wonder we are broke right?
Outside of the jobs program and export business case dogma that hangs on this program like cancer, the reality is that the two types that should be procured are the F-35C & B. The Navy needs a deep strike stealth fighter-bomber aircraft. Without it the Carrier Strike Group is not really a stand alone first day of war fighting force versus a modern foe with an advanced integrated air defense system (IADS) without blowing hundreds of millions of dollars on a limited inventory of standoff cruise and air launched missiles. On the other hand, the F-35B dictated the whole design concept of the F-35 and inflicted penalties on the airframe because of it’s very special STOVL needs. If we abandon the B model’s unique capabilities by canceling the type, the whole reason we invested in the JSF concept will be compromised. Further, the F-35B allows the US to basically double its carrier fleet (numerically) via the Navy’s Landing Helicopter Docks and forthcoming Landing Helicopter Assault carriers. With the F-35B, these smaller sized multi-role carriers will have almost the same capability (minus the C model’s longer range and 2,000LB class internal weapons carriage abilities) as their much larger nuclear cousins, all at a fraction of the cost. Although some say the F-35B’s stealthy STOVL philosophy was wrong to begin with, the ability to forward deploy such a powerful package of fighter, attack and ISR capabilities without large runways is pretty amazing.
The USAF’s A model is truly the consolation prize out of the three variants. Further, the F-35C model has more range so why not just sell this aircraft instead of the F-35A. It may be more expensive but much of that has to do with the low production numbers originally envisioned for the C model. If foreign partners want to buy the JSF they can purchase the C model. The same with the USAF, if they want eventually want the JSF they can buy the C model, or even a stripped down, lighter weight C model similar to the F/A-18L concept. This was done with the F-4 Phantom and there is no reason why it cannot be done with the F-35. Further, air arms around the world fly the Hornet, which is a navalized fighter, as if it were a land based fighter and there are no complaints. The only reason why there is a business case for the A model is cost, it’s internal cannon and the slight speed/maneuverability advantage offered by the smaller wing and lighter weight. It is well-known that the A model is a 9G plane, whereas the B and C are rated for 7.5Gs, but as discussed here before once the Helmet Mounted Sight and Distributive Aperture Systems is fully integrated the F-35 will have no need for super hard turning after the merge as they can cue AIM-9X Block II missiles 180′ degrees off boresight and guide them via data link to their hard turning targets.
In the end, I would love for someone in the Pentagon procurement world to read this and tell me why this is wrong or not possible. Everywhere seems to think that the F-35B is the variant on the chopping block, yet this would undermine the whole JSF design case and would in reality destroy the most promising variant of the whole lot. Further, at most the USAF should buy half the number of JSF’s planned today. They should take the savings from this reduced buy and purchase 100+ more raptors and plenty of fresh F-16s to fill the services increasingly vacant ramps.
More on my plan for cancelling (or at least a portion of) the F-35 program and the amazing alternatives to the JSF: