The US Marine Corps is working hard to reduce the cost of operating the Lockheed Martin F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant (STOVL) of the Joint Strike Fighter, says the service's top aviation officer.
The effort is in its early stages, says Lt Gen Robert Schmidle, the service's deputy commandant for aviation, but he is challenging every underlying cost assumption and operating concept to scour for savings.
Potentially, costs could be reduced to levels comparable to the conventional take-off F-35A. Part of the solution could be changing the way the aircraft is maintained, Schmidle says.
Instead of sending certain parts off to the depot to be repaired, additional maintenance could be performed at the squadron level or at an intermediate level repair facility. Schmidle says the USMC has had great success in reducing the operating costs of the Bell-Boeing MV-22 by more than 20%, while simultaneously increasing readiness by using such an approach. The same approach could be used on the F-35B, Schmidle says.
Another way to reduce operating costs is to make sure the cost assumptions reflect operationally realistic flying, Schmidle says. Some assumptions that are used in the current cost figures use unrealistic concepts of operations-for example an extremely high percentage of flight operations are assumed to be STOVL flight, which is simply not realistic.
Additionally, the F-35 flight simulators are so good that pilots may not need to fly as often. As much as half of a squadron's operations might be in the simulator, Schmidle says. The networked simulators provide a lot more fidelity than ever before, and when networked with different aircraft types, provide more stressful tactical scenarios than those possible with live flying.
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