WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps’ top aviator is hungry for more F-35Bs, telling reporters on Wednesday that he would like to see the service’s buy rate increase to 37 jets per year.
That would almost double the planned rate of F-35B procurement over the next few years, which is projected to sit at 20 aircraft per year from fiscal years 2018 to 2021.
"We have the infrastructure in place,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation. "Bottom line is we've had a very anemic ramp, so we've been holding onto the older airplanes longer. If asked by the American people to get the airplanes faster, I guarantee we'd put them into play very, very quickly.
“We'd transition squadrons faster is what we'd do,” he said, adding that if the service were allowed to purchase 37 B-variants a year, it would be able to retire its legacy F/A-18 Hornet and Harrier planes by 2026.
Over on the book of faces, every time the F-35 makes the news, someone pops in to cry that the F-35 can’t do Close Air Support.
Which, frankly, strikes me as silly. The Marines literally invented CAS. I’ll share what I posted as a response to this balderdash yesterday.
How many times do we have to go around in this circle?
CAS is a mission, not a platform.
What makes CAS isn't how low and slow the airplane is, it's the proximity of friendly forces to the effects.
The value of low and slow in the Vietnam era was that it improved the CAS pilot's ability to generate situational awareness (SA) of the location of both the friendlies and the intended target.
Amazingly, in the intervening half century, technology has evolved somewhat, and there are improved devices and procedures that allow the CAS pilot to generate that SA without having to stooge over the battlefield in range of small arms fire while leaning over and staring at the rocks.
Indeed, it was the fantastic performance of the F-15E Strike Eagle, and Sniper pod equipped F-16s that spurred the Air Force to integrate some of those same technologies into the A-10, and give it the ability to deliver modern PGMs, so that it would achieve something approaching the performance of the fast jets. Prior that, the "danger close" of the A-10 was much greater than other platforms.
Heck, the B-1B and the B-52 are both high demand CAS assets because of their large weapon hauling ability, their great ISR capability, and their endurance. And they aren't loitering at 2000 feet.
And the Marines, who invented CAS, and have a fetish for it like no one else, are happy with their F-35s, gun or no gun.
But if having a 30mm cannon is that important to you, let the Apaches come play.
I’ll add this, regarding an increased buy of F-35s in the next few years. You’ll end up paying more up front in total dollars, of course, but the single best way to drive down unit flyaway costs is to increase the rate of production. For instance, there’s certain costs that we’re paying for whether we buy 1, 10, or 100 aircraft a year, such as salaries on the LMT team. Might as well get 37 planes for the same salary.
Another thing- Marine Corps fighter aviation is in terrible shape. They bet the farm on the F-35 replacing both the F/A-18A/B/C/D legacy Hornet, and the AV-8B. But the delay in introducing the F-35 meant those older aircraft have had to serve longer than anticipated. And that has driven maintenance costs up, and availability down. Something approaching 70% of the Marine Hornet fleet is unavailable. Now, having a quarter of the inventory out of service for deep maintenance is fairly normal. And having a fair percentage down for minor maintenance issues on any given day isn’t unusual. But right now, the availability of jets to the Marines is so poor that they can barely maintain minimum flight proficiency, let alone tactical and operational proficiency.
The situation on the Navy side of the house is bad as well, but not so catastrophic yet. If bumping production of Marine F-35Bs means a slight slowdown in F-35C production, I’m not sure the Navy would object too loudly.