US Marine Corps to become 2nd F-35C customer

CF1 painted.jpgI’m back on the defense beat after a brief interlude covering the commercial-oriented Heli-Expo convention in Orlando this week. Amazing what you miss if you turn your head for two days.

For example, the US Marine Corps, which previously seemed devoted solely to the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B variant, will soon buy some F-35C carrier varaints. Here’s my transcript of the exchange yesterday between Sen Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and commandant of the Marine Corps Gen James Amos.

Lieberman: I noted in the statement you made in your preparedtestimony that the F-35C of the Joint Strike Fighter will be procured for boththe navy and the marine corps. I think it’s been the general understanding thatthe Marine Corps would want to see produced and would procure a pure F-35BSTOVL fleet variant of the F-35 and that in fact is the plan that is reflecte inthe curret future years defense program. Did I read this correctly in your prepared statement and couldyou speak therefore to the future mix if that is the correct interpration ofthe F-35B and F-35C in the Marine Corps inventory?

Mabus: Yes, sir. It has always been true that the F-35B was solelya Marine aircraft. It’s also been true the C version the carrier version the navalversion was going to have marines flying those as well. Today we have three marinesquadrons aboard carriers. And we are currently undergoing a TacAir [tactical aircraft] integrationlook across the navy and Marine Corps to see what the proper mix is of C’s forthe navy and Marine Corps to make sure that we continue that integration andmake sure marines continue to fly off carriers in strike fighters as well as in verticaltakeoff and landing aircraft.

Lieberman: General, can you give me your reaction to this? Isthat mix at this point acceptable to the marine corps? Am I wrong that you hadoriginally hoped for a pure STOVL variant fleet?

Amos: Senator, you are correct that was the initial plan. Letme back up just a little bit. We’ve always been fans of TacAir integration. Asthe secretary said, we have had marine squadrons on the navy carriers — on the Enterprise right now, we have Marine F/A-18s. We do that. We like that. It’sgood for both our services and the naval force. But when we set the requirement in forSTOVL aircraft our hope was we would be able to some day fly some of those aircraftoff CVN aircraft carriers. That’s yet to be seen whether that would be possible.So in the meantime it would seem prudent that we sould buy some number of C variantseven early on so we can begin to transition our force there. But it will be a proportional numberto our overall buy of STOVL.


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16 Responses to US Marine Corps to become 2nd F-35C customer

  1. Royce 9 March, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    We’ve watched Britain abandon the F-35B, and now the Marines are talking about buying fewer Bs. How long can the F-35B aspect of the program last when the expected order book keeps shrinking?

  2. Weaponhead 9 March, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    Thought that the Royal Navy was going to buy C models since wisely giving up on the B model. So that would be USN, RN, and USMC which for me adds to 3.

  3. Stephen Trimble 9 March, 2011 at 6:13 pm #
  4. RunningBear 10 March, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Today the USMC is flying (strike force) F-18A/C (96), F-18B/D (60) and AV-8B (84) or 240 a/c (20 squadrons). Of the 240 a/c to be replaced by the F-35B&C in 20 squadrons, only one third (7) were Harriers . The USMC, like the other forces will not expect to get a 1 for 1 replacement. This is a reduction in the USMC from 20 to 16 squadrons not including the training commands. The USN/ USMC order for F-35B&C was 680 a/c of which 480 a/c (40 squadrons for USN) and 200 a/c (20 to 16 squadrons for USMC). F-35B was 152 a/c (7 up to 12 squadrons for USMC) and F-35C was 48 a/c (13 down to 4 squadrons for USMC). This is an interpretation of the Gates and Mabry most recent comments. This significantly changes the mission of Marine aviation from a significant strike force to a significant CAS force. Though I would not like to be the receiving force from “only” 4 F-35C squadrons, be it ground attack or HI-CAP.

  5. Mark Collins 10 March, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Canadian Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report on F-35 just released:

    Puts unit cost for us at US $148.5 million.


  6. Aussie Digger 11 March, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Be nice if you could have got the figures correct though Mark. Your prices are greater than those being charged even for LRIP jets, there is no evidence whatsoever to show that prices of full rate production jets will vastly exceed these. Quite the opposite in fact.

    Starting out with the wrong figures and consciously expanding outwards from there seems to be an all too common tactic amongst F-35 critics.


  7. Mark Collins 11 March, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Aussie Digger: See pp. 10 of 28 of the report.

    This from the report (p. 41) is very interesting:

    “The new aircraft was to reflect key lessons derived from the 1991 Gulf War. Stealth was seen as immensely valuable in the first day of the war; however, after the first day’s operations, the Iraqi integrated air defense system never recovered, and Pentagon planners believed that stealth would be less vital as any campaign continued. In addition, operations revealed the high value of precision guided munitions. The Joint Direct Attack Munition80 program, the first full-production GPS guided bomb, was well under way by 1995. This meant that a combat aircraft could be lethal even with a relatively small weapon load. All this led to a ‘day-one stealth’ concept, where the aircraft would carry a restricted internal load at the start of the campaign but then switch to non-stealthy operations with a larger load of external weapons afterward in order to deal with bigger target sets. This transformation in approach called for a versatile design.”

    Does the Canadian Air Force need that initial strike stealth? If we on the other hand take part thereafter stealth is not critical–and is not demanded even of the F-35 with weapons on the wings degrading stealth severely.

    From the same page:

    “As the largest customer, the USAF had a strong influence on the basic operational requirement, which was expressed early on as ‘70 per cent strike and 30 per cent fighter’. In USAF service, the F-15 and, later, the F-22 are the primary air combat fighters, with F-16s in a fighter-bomber role. The strike mission emphasized ground targets, called for the ability to carry bombs (bulkier and heavier than air-to-air missiles), and required a built-in infrared/laser targeting system. Fighter missions stressed speed and acceleration, radar size and power, and agility.”

    Are those our requirements in a fighter? Esp. since its main use in practice is Canadian airspace patrol and protection, a role for which stealth is not needed.


  8. Mark Collins 11 March, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Sorry–pp. 10 and 28.


  9. Atomic Walrus 11 March, 2011 at 7:34 pm #


    Stealth has tactical uses beyond first day strike. If a fighter is harder to detect, it’s also harder to attack. That’s an advantage in air-to-air combat scenarios such as airspace patrol and protection.

    I also question the operating cost estimate included in the report. If you refer to page 30, you’ll note that they’re using a relatively simple model based on initial cost and weight. They note that “Some relevant data exists indicating that average O&S costs for fighter/strike jets range from approximately 3–5% per annum.” Then they proceed to use 6.4% for the F-35, apparently based on the risk of new technology. This is very poor practice and inappropriate use of an empirical model. Fighter aircraft always incorporate new technology. For example, the F-18 introduced extensive use of composite structures, and (then) advanced avionics such as a glass cockpit and fly-by-wire. This means that the cost impact of new technology is embedded in the historical cost of 3-5%. To justify a higher cost estimate, the PBO needed a bottom-up O&M model looking at the impact of various aspects of the design on cost, rather than attempting to impose an assumption from above.

  10. Mark Collins 11 March, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Gov’t feeling the (re)heat:

    ‘The government is going to turn over more information on the long-term cost of the F-35 fighter jets, a Conservative MP said Friday.

    Laurie Hawn, parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, says there are “probably millions of pages” about the costs associated with buying and maintaning the Joint Strike Fighters made by Lockheed Martin. He said it’s hard to release the information because Canada is working on the purchase with eight other NATO countries, who all have a say in what defence officials can give out.

    “It’s not an unfair question to say where’s the information, and we’re going to work to get as much of that as we can,” Hawn said…

    The government, however, said it stands by its figures. It says it has committed $9-billion to buy the 65 planes, for a per-plane cost of around $70 million [emphasis added, good blinking luck]. It estimates the fleet will cost between $250 million and $300 million to service per year…

    Page cautions that any cost estimates, his own or those from other sources, should be viewed in the context of the methodology used and the data available. The budget officer said in his report that his office asked DND to explain the methodology behind its estimates.

    “DND confirmed that such an analysis has not yet been undertaken,” the report says…

    Page was asked to report on whether a competitive bid would have saved money compared to the cost of the sole-sourced deal, but he said there is insufficient data available for him to make such an assessment [honest, what?]…’


  11. Aussie Digger 12 March, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    Mark, you would deliberately choose a fighter that is LESS capable, but more likely for more money? Okay…

    Fact is, modern 4th Gen fighters such as F-15SG, Typhoon, Rafale are costing more than even LRIP IV F-35 jets.

    I don’t care what a Canadian political Opposition party commissioned study has come up with in terms of their costing models. (Especially when said Opposition has chosen to adopt an opposition to the aircraft simply for political reasons).

    I care about the contract prices we are seeing for F-35 fighters. These are massively cheaper than that report has listed. The report is an estimate. But as we have seen with LRIP IV aircraft prices, estimates of what they will cost have been wrong and the manufacturer has been right.

    Even the Netherlands second LRIP F-35A is “only” costing $137.8m as seen in their Government’s latest report and that includes all the bells and whistles, engine etc. Full rate production jets are going to be cheaper, not dearer.

  12. Aussie Digger 12 March, 2011 at 4:32 am #

    F-35A LRIP IV jets confirmed to only cost about $126m each and Israel has signed for jets from FRP at $91m a pop.

    Clearly Canada is being ripped off, or that issue with the critics and the incorrect figures to try and bolster their weak arguments is raising it’s head again…

  13. Mark Collins 16 March, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    From Parl. Sec. to MND:

    “F-35 price not firm, Hawn admits”


  14. Mark Collins 16 March, 2011 at 1:36 pm #


    “F-35 no ‘sack of potatoes,’ says Tory MP”

    “Harper missing the point on F-35s”


  15. Mark Collins 7 April, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Lots more (from me) on Canada and the F-35 at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds Blog”.


  16. Mark Collins 7 April, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    National Defence Parliamentary Secretary Laurie Hawn defends F-35‏:


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