Aviation Week reports that U.S. Navy undersecretary Robert Work has ordered the Marine Corps and the Navy to look for less costly alternatives to the Navy's current tactical aviation plan, and reexamine the consequences of canceling either the F-35C or the F-35B. Work also directed the Navy and Marines to find out if they could operate fewer than the planned 40 squadrons of F-35Bs and Cs. The order came in a June 7 memo that also ordered that "The key performance differences between the Block II F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with all planned upgrades, F-35B and F-35C."
This is a major event in the F-35 Lightning II program, as there has always been solidarity in the high levels of all three participating services, in that they all supported the F-35 program and fiercely defended their service's variant.
Thus, with this report it shows that the Navy at least is having some doubts about the F-35 program. This report could be based on fears that the F-35B's exhaust could be hot enough to melt the deck of the ships it lands on, and the fear that the F-35 could be canceled in future budget cuts.
This is simply the beginning of a whole new F-111 fiasco, when the Navy left the F-111 program. During the 1960s then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara merged the Air Force's requirement for a high speed low altitude nuclear bomber, and the Navy's requirement for an aircraft capable of shooting down Soviet anti-ship missiles at long range. This snafu of a program became known as the F-111 Aardvark (hint: not a bird). The Navy eventually left the F-111 program because the aircraft was extremely expensive, overweight, under powered, just to name a few reasons. The Navy then replaced the F-111 with the F-14 Tomcat, which today could be the F/A-18E/F, F/A-XX, or even the X-47B. The Air Force eventually bought the F-111 using it as a long range precision bomber and as an ECM aircraft (Electronic CounterMeasures) formerly known as the EF-111A Raven.
While the F-35 was originally a good idea, attempting to squeeze three different aircraft into one common airframe is a recipe for disaster, which we will see in the next couple of years. The Navy will probably pull out of the F-35 program, the F-35B will probably be canceled, but the Air Force will probably stick with the F-35 and rode out the storm.
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy