1. The Legacy Fleet is Aging
The U.S. Navy’s existing fleet of F/A-18 Hornets and F/A-18 Super Hornets is aging fast, with many in need of replacement or costly and time-consuming Service Life Extension Plans (SLEP) to extend the aircraft beyond their original 6,000-hour flight limit.
The F-35C will deliver an 8,000-flight hour airframe and will replace, supplement and enhance the U.S. Navy’s existing fleet for decades to come
2. Evolving Threats Demand New Capabilities
Rising threats from advanced surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles, and tactical aircraft are advancing and fielding at a rapid pace, requiring new capabilities not available in 4th generation fighters.
With true stealth designed in from day one, coupled with sensor fusion, unprecedented battlespace awareness, and electronic attack, the F-35C provides the warfighter the ultimate ability to more effectively execute assigned missions in the face of advancing threat capabilities around the globe.
And with more than 18,000 pounds of weapons capacity, and nearly 20,000 pounds of internal fuel, the F-35C delivers transformational lethality, survivability, combat radius, and mission flexibility.
3. F-35’s Sensor Capability and Connectivity Will Enhance All Platforms
The transformational F-35 is more than just a strike-fighter. It is a powerful force multiplier with an advanced sensor and communications suite that can significantly enhance the capabilities of other air, surface and ground-based platforms.
The F-35 can be used as a broad area sensor to provide early warning, over-the-horizon information on potential targets or incoming threats. When paired with U.S. Navy systems like Aegis for example, the aircraft can significantly increase the capability to detect, track and engage missile threats. The U.S. Marine Corps also recently conducted a joint live-fire integration exercise with HIMARS and the F-35B serving as a sensor-to-shooter communications relay.
4. The F-35 Enhances 4th Generation Fighters
U.S. Services have successfully employed the F-35 in multiple demanding deployments and exercises, and the F-35 is supporting operations around the globe today.
The F-35 is proving to be a transformational weapon system that not only provides significantly better battlespace accessibility compared to legacy aircraft but also makes legacy aircraft more survivable and effective by sharing its fused sensor information for unmatched threat and battlespace awareness among all air and surface assets currently operating in conjunction with Expeditionary Strike Groups, and soon with Carrier Strike Groups
By 2025, the Navy's Aircraft Carrier air wings are scheduled to include F-35Cs, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters, and CV-22 carrier on board delivery logistics aircraft.
5. As the Program Matures, Costs Are Coming Down
The F-35 program is maturing rapidly and costs are coming down. Lockheed Martin has delivered more than 280 aircraft, trained more than 580 pilots and 5,600 maintainers and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 130,000+ cumulative flight hours.
F-35 unit costs have declined by more than 60% since the first production lot and we continue to reduce costs across production and sustainment. The F-35C specifically is on track to reach a unit cost of about $97 million by 2020, a cost that is considered comparable to legacy fighters.
And as aircraft mature, reliability improves, and the F-35 enterprise gears up to support a growing operational fleet, F-35C is expected to improve mission readiness and drastically reduce sustainment cost.
With significantly more capability for an equivalent cost as legacy aircraft, the F-35C is poised to affordably strengthen U.S. Navy air power for decades to come.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Several of Lockheed’s arguments as outlined above are false or misleading. They however show a new sense of urgency for Lockheed, as the US Navy begins to invest heavily in Boeing’s new F-18E/F Block III while continuing to buy EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, which both carry out the same missions the F-35C was designed for.
It is clear Lockheed fears the US Navy, faced with the F-35C’s huge operating costs, in addition to the need to invest further in the Block 4 upgrade as well as in very high acquisition costs, could scale back its F-35C buy and wait for the 6th-gen fighter to arrive.
In (2) above, nothing substantiates Lockheed’s claim that only “5th-generation” fighters can survive modern air defences. In fact, jamming and chaff/flares have been shown to be effective in operations, most recently in Libya, whereas “stealth” has not.
In (3), the US Navy already operates E-2C/D Hawkeye for early warning and control, so at best the F-35C’s sensors could improve the air combat situation.
In (4), the F-35 is not “supporting operations around the globe today,” because all delivered aircraft are used only for training, except for Italian and Israeli F-35As which are incapable of combat missions because they are not fitted with the required software version.
In (5), unit costs have not been reduced by 60%, although the 10 annual production contracts awarded to date have shown some reduction.
Click here for our latest analysis of F-35 unit costs.)