The Once and Future Strike Fighter
How the Navy Will Kill JSF
I am an unashamed fan of the F/A-18 Super Hornet. It may be the best USN decision in the last 20 years. The upgraded F/A-18C Hornet, which was smaller and short legged was a good plane but this is better. Not the best American naval plane of all time mind you, but it was the right decision, and right on time, as an entire class of naval fighters and bombers designed and procured during the Vietnam conflict was reaching the end of their illustrious careers.
So when I see precious airpower funds siphoning off to a program which suffers repeated delays, costing more and more each year, and probably will be no better, or even worse than the aircraft it is replacing, naturally this is cause for concern. The signs are increasingly evident the F-35 Lightning II is the F-111 of our era (sad proof the same mindset is still at work at the DoD), and probably the worse Navy decision in recent memory, but hopefully rationale will soon intervene. Here is James Hasik:
Back in February, we all got to watch Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, who represents the area around the factory that makes the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, rather lecture US Defense Secretary Bob Gates about the difference between his favorite plane and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Akin was particularly miffed that the secretary wouldn’t commit to another multiyear contract for Super Hornets, which would lower the cost per aircraft (according to Gates) by roughly six percent. As the congressman’s press release put it, “the Super Hornet [has] an active production line, and is dramatically cheaper than the JSF, which may not deliver anywhere close to on time.”
The JSF gets more expensive, the Super Hornet gets cheaper. Whats not to love? The problem is, a lot of hopes have been placed on the newer plane to replace a bevy of Cold War era fighters–F-15s, F-16s, A-10s, AV-8s, which are facing block retirement. Notice that I didn’t say block obsolescence since for the most part the older legacy planes are still very useful, and have been helping win all America’s wars since the fall of the Iron Curtain, while replacement programs suffer from countless delays. It’s not that the older jets are no longer useful, just worn out from over-use and extreme age.
So some new build Super Hornets would be a shot into the arm for our pilots desperately seeking some type of new air frame to fly to war, rather than the same well-used ones their fathers and even grandfathers flew in combat. But how to get past the Red Tape imposed by the floundering JSF programs? Hasik has a few ideas on how to cancel the billion-dollar mess:
- Fracture International Interest-In other words, primary support for the JSF comes from our allies seeking to replace their own Cold War stocks of mostly American-built platforms like the F-16. These nations might be prepared to offer their own versions of JSF alternatives like the Rafale, Gripen, and Eurofighter Typhoon. It seems logical then in order to maintain diversity and keep open essential aircraft industries overseas that the JSF must be dropped.
- Depend More on UAVs-The JSF may be obsolete already, with the current calls for ever more numerous and capable unmanned aerial vehicles. Utilized in conjunction with Raptors and Super Hornets, the the Reapers, Predators, and perhaps soon the X-47 UCAS drones can handle most functions which are listed in the JSF specifications, from close air support, bomber, everything but the air superiority role.
Hasik also points to at least one JSF variant which might survive, the F-35B vertical take-off and landing or V/STOL plane. Here is something no other jet except the very old Harrier can do and which shouldn’t interfere with any other program. Much like the F-111 from the 1960s, which was meant to be an air force and naval fighter, plus bomber, electronic warfare plane and so on, it only really excelled in the last two roles, the naval fighter and air superiorty version being mercifully canceled.