According to a recent National Defense magazine article, the Marine Corps would be weakened if the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s first supersonic and radar-evading stealth aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing capabilities, isn’t approved.
The F-35 Lightning II was developed by Lockheed Martin as part of their Joint Strike Fighter Program. Lockheed Martin produced three variants of the aircraft and the Marine Corps is getting the F-35B, the short take-off vertical landing variant.
The jet will become the primary aircraft fighter for the Marine Corps once it’s in the Corps’ air arsenal. It’s slated to replace the Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet and EA-6B Prowler, and the Corps’ AV-8B Harrier II.
Maj. Joseph “O.D.” Bachmann became the first Marine to pilot the F-35 in a developmental test flight at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics plant in Fort Worth, Texas, March 19. He said the F-35 can do everything the Marine Corps’ legacy fighter jets can do, “but cheaper and better.”
One of the F-35’s best of many capabilities is stealth, he added. This will be the first time the Corps will have a stealth aircraft, which according to Marine officials, will make the Marines adapt to new warfighting tactics.
The F-35B is the world’s first supersonic and radar-evading stealth aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing capabilities. The aircraft can operate from a variety of ships, roads and austere bases.
“When the F-35 gets fielded, the rest of the world can’t turn a blind eye to our force being stealth,” said Bachmann. “[The enemy] won’t ever know we’re coming. It’s awesome.”
Operation support cost is also reduced with the F-35. According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35B will provide unequaled multi-mission capability with a fraction of the support required by other fighter jets.
“This aircraft and its game-changing capabilities are going to offer Marine and joint force commanders on the front lines the most affordable and technologically-advanced fifth-generation aircraft in the world,” said Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. George Trautman.
The three F-35 variants were derived from a common design developed together. Using the same sustainment infrastructure worldwide, the F-35 will replace at least 13 types of aircraft for 11 nations initially, making the aircraft the most cost-effective fighter program in history, according to a Lockheed Martin press release.
Doug Pearson, vice president of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Test Force, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, stressed that when Marines operate all around the world in the ugliest situations, they need to be able to call upon a “survival machine” to go into harm’s way, survive and be effective. And that’s what the F-35 is designed to do.
“We’re diligently working to keep our edge,” said Pearson. “God forbid we ever have a major conflict. But if we do, we need [this aircraft] and we need it to be swift.”
Bachmann sees the most important role of the aircraft is its benefit to the Marine walking point in a combat zone, when it’s dark, scary and the enemy is near. There’s a strike fighter that’ll be in the air that’s lethal, stealthy and it will kill the enemy before they know they’re being watched, he illustrated.
“For the Marine that’s out on the front all by himself, he’s going to have a higher level of protection behind him,” he said.
The whole point of the production of the aircraft was to protect the Marines on the ground — the grunts, said Staff Sgt. Ben Tchinski, an aviation ordinance technician and an F-35 basic maintainer with integrated test force out of Patuxent River, Md.
“The Joint Strike Fighter will save more lives and kill more bad guys,” he said.
“The Marine Corps opted to wait more than ten years for this multi-role aircraft rather than invest billions of dollars in legacy upgrades that offer only marginal incremental improvement in operational performance at high cost,” Trautman said. “We didn’t want something ‘a little better.’ We wanted an aircraft that will allow us to leverage technologies that have improved tremendously over the past few years. The F-35 is an aircraft that can perform a wide variety of missions across the full range of military operations far better than any other aircraft flying anywhere today.”