USMC generals say they absolutely have to have their mega-expensive F-35B. But their idea on how to use it is problematic—at best.
The F-35B, the Marine Corps’ version of the stealthy Joint Strike Fighter, has the shortest range and the smallest payload of any of the F-35 variants. It’s also the most expensive, with a unit price tag of $140 million, not including R&D. The Marines’ requirement to do short-take-off, vertical-landing (STOVL), and to fit aboard the ships that the Corps use, shipboard requirements determined the F-35’s wingspan and length, dictated the use of a single engine and drove the internal layout of the fuselage.
Marine Corps leaders have been confident that the F-35B alone will deliver strategic options that justify its price and its impact on the Air Force and Navy versions. That’s a tall order.
A Marine expeditionary force is organized around a single amphibious warfare ship, classified as an LHA or an LHD. These are 50,000-ton warships but they have to carry Marines, their equipment, and helicopters as well as jet fighters. Normally, the air combat element includes just six Harrier “jump jets,” and no force of six aircraft has won a war yet.
The idea behind the Marine Harrier force has always been that it can expand beyond the ship’s capacity, by using shore bases that other fighters cannot reach: short civilian runways or even stretches of road. This kind of operation has been performed by the Marines, in combat, exactly three times in the 40-year history of the Harrier force.
The question today is a simple one: What scenario can we contemplate where you need supersonic, stealthy multi-role fighters, but you don’t need the full carrier air wing? In the past few months the Marines have rolled out some potential answers. (end of excerpt)
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