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Mattis review will validate F-35: USMC aviation chief

The US Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation is placing his bets on the Lockheed Martin F-35C ahead of a Pentagon review that will compare the Lightning II to Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

During a 1 February roundtable, Lt Gen Jon Davis cautioned reporters he would not get out ahead of the Pentagon’s study but expressed his confidence in the F-35.

“My sense is, we’ll probably end up validating the imperative to have a fifth generation aircraft out there,” Davis says. “We’ll let Boeing and Lockheed basically make their case to what they think they can do. I’m highly confident we’re on the right track, we’ll let the facts rest where they are.”

Last week, US Defense secretary James Mattis ordered a review of the F-35 programme that would include comparing the F-35C and the Super Hornet’s cost and operational capabilities.

F-35Bs make up the bulk of the USMC’s buy, with 353 short-takeoff vertical landing fighters on order. But the service also plans to buy 67 F-35Cs, including 10 already purchased and six on the flight line in the training squadron today, Davis says. The USMC has a stake in four squadrons of F-35Cs.

If the DOD chooses Super Hornets over the F-35C, Davis says, the Marine Corps’ fleet would face new limitations.

“There are some scenarios where you just won’t be able to go,” he says. “You’ll have higher attrition with fourth [generation] airplanes.”

Meanwhile, Davis dismissed a nose gear issue which caused excessive bouncing on the F-35C as a small problem that must be fixed before the first scheduled carrier deployment in three years.

“We do have to get it fixed before the carrier [deployment in 2020] and I think we mainly saw that with lightweight catapult shots,” he says.

The Pentagon’s top weapons tester wrote in his last report on the F-35 that the aircraft’s stiff landing gear struts, particularly the nose gear, caused “excessive jarring” that often required pilots to stop taxiing.

“Vertical oscillations during F-35C catapult launches were reported by pilots as excessive, violent, and therefore a safety concern during this critical phase of flight,” the report states. “The program is still investigating alternatives to address this deficiency, which makes a solution in time for [initial operational test and evaluation] and Navy fielding unlikely.”

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