The F-35B short takeoff and landing variant is on the chopping block.
—John A. Tirpak
Britain’s decision to back out of buying its planned 138 F-35Bs—and substitute the F-35C carrier model in yet-undetermined numbers—will cause the unit cost of the Marine Corps’ short takeoff and vertical landing specialty model to go up, possibly enough to make it unaffordable.
Britain’s defection leaves the Marines and Italy as the only planned F-35B operators.
The F-35B has less range and payload than the Air Force F-35A variant and the Navy C model due to the need to accommodate the lift-fan apparatus.
The recent British defense and security review said that country would reduce F-35 operating costs 25 percent by dropping the STOVL model.
Lockheed Martin F-35 guru Tom Burbage said in an interview that the F-35B would still be affordable across the three US services because the unit cost of the F-35C will diminish with Britain’s decision to buy only that type, offsetting the F-35B's increased unit cost.
"We build them on the same line," so the change is transparent to Lockheed, said Burbage.
He also said that Spain and potentially India, both of which have ski-ramp-type carriers, could also be F-35B customers.
Pentagon officials note that the increasing accuracy of tactical ballistic missiles in the hands of potential adversaries makes it increasingly less likely that the Marines can use the STOVL model as they’ve envisioned: either from amphibious ships right offshore or just behind the battle lines, to provide quick close air support. Such locations would all be in range of those missiles.
In its draft report released Nov. 10, the Presidentially chartered National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommended that the Pentagon cancel the F-35B "because of its technical problems, cost overruns, schedule delays, and the adoption by the services of joint combat support in current wartime operations."
Cancelling it could accelerate delivery of the F-35A and F-35C versions, stated the document.
DOD has planned to buy 311 F-35Bs at a cost of $41 billion, according to the commission.
The panel would also reduce the F-35A and F-35C buys.
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