I’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.