US Navy aviation’s F-35 dilemma

December 9, 2013

The naval variant of the F-35 (F-35c) has had its detractors from the start (the F-35 has a single engine, and naval aviators have long preferred two engines in case of a failure over the ocean), and massive cost overruns and engineering errors have eroded what support it does have.   The F-18 Super Hornet has been a workhorse for the Navy since the 1990s and with upgrades can do many of the things that the F-35c can do, and do it cheaper (currently, we could purchase 3 F-18s for the cost of every F-35c).  Promoters of the F-35 point to two characteristics that the F-18 can never duplicate:  Stealth and shareability.  The first point is largely moot, as continual advancements in sensors will eventually defeat the stealth features of any aircraft.  The second point, however, is stronger.  The F-35c will be flown by most of the US allies in the Indo-Pacific region.  This provides additional capability as Naval F-35s will be able to land and receive support and service all across the region, not just on US aircraft carriers.

In the 80s and 90s, the US could afford to keep both lines open, but no more.  It is an either/or choice.  The F-35 still leads, but congressional seapower advocate Rep. Randy Forbes has recently come out in support of the F-18, which is a serious blow to the F-35 program.

There is no good or easy choice here (personally, I would have chosen a combination of the F-22 and the F-18 over the F-35 to begin with), but maybe the time has come to quit throwing good money after bad.  Cancel at least the Navy version of the F-35, go with the F-18 and get to work on designing a 6th generation fighter.

F-18 E/F, left, and F-35, right

F-18 E/F, left, and F-35, right


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