The F-35B: From ‘Probation’ To Transformation
When Defense Secretary Bob Gates put the F-35B on “probation” and Sen. John McCain became his powerful echo chamber, we responded on the pages of Breaking Defense that these actions were misguided.
We had spent many hours with the pilots, maintainers, builders, designers, and testers of the aircraft, and came to a very different conclusion: “The F-35B – the Marines vertical takeoff version of the Joint Strike Fighter — is just one example of unique game changers.It permits a significant increase in strategic and tactical potential across a force, across a fleet, and leverages new platforms being introduced to shape an innovative future.”
We thought Sen. McCain was just missing the point: “The JSF is a fleet, not a single plane. The senator never mentions the allies to whom the U.S. has committed to produce this aircraft soon and in manufactured numbers. The allies are completely missing in the senator’s worldview, which is so Inside the Beltway.”
When critics of the program convinced Secretary Gates to put the F-35B on probation in 2011, the Marines did not waver, even in the face of mounting criticism and wavering support for the plane inside the Pentagon. At the time, then-Lt. Gen. George Trautman, the deputy Commandant for aviation, said: “We knew that the problems with the aircraft were relatively minor and could be easily corrected. We were also confident that the UK would eventually reverse their hasty decision to opt for another JSF variant. For the Marine Corps and our allies, the F-35B represents an exponential increase in operational capability and there never was a moment when we considered taking a different TACAIR path.”
Now, with the decision by Gen. Joseph Dunford, Marine Commandant, to declare the F-35B operationally ready,
one should focus on how the plane will impact the other US services and
the allies. The declaration of IOC is not a huge event in and of
itself. Instead, it is the starting point on a decade of fundamental
transformation made possible by the emergence of an F-35 global fleet.