There is nothing new in this piece that I have not beaten like a dead horse already, but retired USAF general, and fellow Oregonian, Tony McPeak’s comments in this piece were very interesting. McPeak obviously is a bleached-in-blue Air Force man who has been out of the game for a long time, although he was 100% for more F-22s and wrote a ton of op-eds about it which were spot on. His view on the F-22 issue is holey supported by aviationintel as I am sure you know if you visit this site often. Yet in this article his questioning of the need for the Marines to have ANY fast jets at all is a big tell as to his subjectivity on the whole matter and greatly lessens the impact of his other comments quoted in the piece. He lambasts the Marine’s F-35B, which really is THE MOST relevant aircraft out of the whole JSF lot. The carrier optimized F-35C a close second as the Navy needs a fifth generation low observable fighter bad. Without it our Carrier Battle Groups are left with the costly cruise missile option, namely the TLAM & JASSM and cannot fly air supurioriy missions over countries with an advanced intergrated air defense system, making carriers as much as a liablity in theater as an asset. All three of the service’s common F-35 airframe was designed around the V/STOL or STOVL capability and the design paid a price in speed, range, cost, durability and maneuverability because of it. With this in mind, to cancel the B model would leave a compromised airframe for the other service’s versions without realizing the benefits that the B model brings to the “total force” picture. Further, the whole joint commonality philosophy, which was the cornerstone of the whole program, would be blown if the B model gets axed.
McPeak also claims that the AV-8B’s short takeoff and vertical landing capability has never been utilized in combat. What is he talking about? Does he not know that Harriers have been operated off of Navy Landing Helicopter Docks for decades? The Harrier’s unique STOVL capability turned what were previously helicopter carriers into robust, over the horizon, fast attack jet capable, multirole aircraft carriers. Today the Harrier is even providing air defense for Marine flotillas via utilizing their APG-65 radars and AIM-120 AMRAAMs. More so, if I remember correctly, the AV-8B community utilized FARPS to a great extent during Iraqi Freedom. They used them as a refueling and re-arming points and as a stopping point before heading back to their assigned LHDs sailing in the gulf. Some LHDs even acted as full on jet aircraft carriers and dispensed with their eclectic helicopter compliment. Instead they stuffed their decks with rows of AV-8B Harriers. This massive addition to the fast jet alliance during tha war would have never been a possible without the Harrier’s unique VSTOL capability.
When it comes to Afghanistan, if I remember correctly, Harriers were able to work out of smaller, damaged or even runways under construction long before any normal fast jets could utilize the facilities. The F-35B takes the Harrier’s STOVL capability to a whole new level and will basically give America a true multirole stealth fighter capability on all of the Navy’s LHDs and LHAs, thus doubling America’s first day of war capable carrier fleet. That is a GREAT value for the American tax payer who is watching our nuclear powered carrier fleet begin to dwindle. A carrier can only be in one place at a time. The F-35B will greatly expand the amount of “places” our naval tactical military aviation components can reach and be ready to fight on the first day of war.
Finally, utilizing STOVL capability in deeply forward deployed or dispersed operations by necessity is truly a “shit hits the fan” scenario. One where we would be fighting a foe with a massive military capability that can survive our initial assaults and retain the ability to broadly strike us back in theater. We have not (THANK GOD) had to use this capability in the past but its nice to know it is in our playbook none-the-less. It is above all else a strong deterrent to our enemies who will undoubtedly see the possibly of 5th generation fighter jets being dispersed throughout the countryside as a major unknown in any protracted conflict.
Ironically for McPeak, the model that, in my opinion, is the LEAST relevant between the three is the USAF’s A model. The USAF already has the best 5th generation, access optimized, fighter ever built in the F-22 Raptor! Build more of them and integrate some of tha F-35 avionics into future airframes (I have talked about this so many times in great detail, including the great need for the FB-22 regional bomber, so I will spare you the pain of listening to it once again). What the USAF needs is more Raptors and the latest F-16s in mass. An effective and affordable high-low mix is the winning equation for the USAF. This philosophy won us the Cold War, its sound, its fixable and its cost-effective. The F-35A is an export and jobs program and is totally unaffordable if bought in mass. If foreign countries or the USAF eventually want the F-35 (assuming the USAF builds more F-22s and drops the F-35A for now) just sell them the more capable C model. Oh and who cares if its only a 7.5G plane? The turning fight is going to become totally irrelevant in the coming years anyway (you can read more on this here:http://aviationintel.com/?p=2284).
None the less, McPeak is a Patriot and I thank him for his service but would love to see him re-evaluate his stance on the subject in relation to America’s future military stance on a “big picture” or “total force” level.