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Post F-35: A Marine Pilot's Appraisal
Created by John Eipper on 02/19/19 2:43 PM

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F-35: A Marine Pilot's Appraisal (Michael Sullivan, USA, 02/19/19 2:43 pm)

Five years down the road from the talk I gave at WAIS/Adrian on the status of the F-35 program, it is now a fully developing program with nearly 500 F35 As, Bs, Cs delivered worldwide by the close of FY 2019.

The US will have taken delivery of 379 with the USAF getting 222, the Marines 83 and the Navy 44. The remaining have gone to Britain, Israel, Australia, Norway, Netherlands, Italy and Japan. Denmark has committed to buy it, and India and Canada are still debating which new fighter they'll buy. The US buy is targeted at 2,443 F-35s and foreign military sales program forecasts 680 F-35s.

The F-35 is still controversial today, as F-35 critics still say it's too expensive and more importantly it isn't performing as it was advertised it would. Initially the price tag was around $200 million for the Marine F-35B, as it was more expensive as it had a normal jet engine plus another lift fan engine to allow it to make short take-offs and vertical landings. The Air Force's F-35A is the basic design and the price has come down to under $90 million each for the next block of F-35As being delivered. The Marine version and the Navy's F35C are both still over a $100 million each, but the price will drop after the next few blocks that are delivered. The predictions are the total US buy of 2,443 is $400 billion and support for the aircraft out to 2070 will end up with the program costing at or over $1 trillion dollars.

The biggest complaints from the F-35 critics is that the aircraft still has so many workarounds and deficiencies that haven't been fixed, that the range is too short, the airframe life was supposed to be 8,000 hours but some are predicting half that time as cracks and metal fatigue are already starting to show up. One of the biggest problems is the Automatic Logistics Information System being very unreliable, which affects the maintenance efforts fixing and ordering parts for the aircraft. The latest computer programs that will make the F-35 perform through its entire spectrum as advertised won't come along until 2023 or so. However, the Marines have been operating the aircraft since 2015, have flown it in combat in Syria which isn't saying much, and are operating at sea off the USS Wasp in the western Pacific.

The Marine F-35 pilots that I've talked with love the aircraft and say it's infinitely superior to the F-18s and Harriers they flew before. The military is gaining confidence in the F-35 program as the price has come down considerably, the aircraft is performing better each time there is a new computer program issued and is has proven is does a lot of missions better than current legacy aircraft. However, the F-35 critics will be there for the life of the aircraft as that's the way it always works.  Fighter pilots and aero engineers have strong egos and are never satisfied!

JE comments: It's hard to believe the F-35 will still be around in 2070, but the B-52 bomber is already 60+ years old.  Wikipedia says it will continue in service until 2050.  Try to wrap your mind around flying a 100-year-old plane...in combat!

Thanks, as always, to Michael Sullivan for his insider's perspective.


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