Joint Strike Fighter Under Attack on Capitol Hill
Joint Strike Fighter Under Attack on Capitol
By Master Sgt. Scott
Elliott, Air Force Print News.
Washington D.C. -- (AFPN)
March 26, 2004 -- A senior Air Force official told lawmakers March 25 that the
service would not be interested in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter if a technical
glitch could not be overcome or if program funds were cut off.
Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi
Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys, deputy chief of staff for air and space operations,
bluntly told members of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on
tactical air and land forces, “If we can’t build it, we’re not going to buy it.”
The general’s comment came in response to subcommittee chairman Rep. Curt
Weldon’s question about Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche’s
testimony March 24 before the Senate Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on
In referring to chronic weight problems with the short takeoff and vertical
landing version of the JSF, the secretary said, “… (R)isk reduction on the STOVL
becomes one of the paramount things to do … because if we cannot build the STOVL
aircraft, then we really cannot proceed with the F-35 program.”
Being overweight is especially troublesome for the close-air support variant of
the F-35, because its primary feature is the short takeoff and vertical landing
capability. The STOVL JSF uses a shaft-driven lift fan propulsion system that
allows the aircraft to hover and land like a helicopter.
Lockheed Martin originally contracted with the U.S. Marine Corps to build the
STOVL variant of the F-35 to replace the AV-8B Harrier. The Air Force will take
over the program in June, as part of the service’s commitment to improving
close-air support, officials said.
“If it doesn’t meet specifications, I don’t think my Marine colleagues would be
interested in an airplane that wouldn’t meet their qualifications,” General Keys
While Secretary Roche did acknowledge concern over the JSF’s weight problem, he
also said the problem was to be expected – it is in only the second year of an
11-year development program.
“Is the weight a terminal problem? We don’t think so, but because it most
severely effects the short takeoff and landing, we believe it’s prudent and
right, and our responsibility, to work the problem,” Secretary Roche said in his
John J. Young Jr., assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and
“There is nothing we see that says the JSF will not work,” he said. “The JSF
enables concepts of operations that none of today’s legacy aircraft can
The JSF is expected to fly and fight into the 2040 to 2050 timeframe. Mr. Young
said that without the JSF, the services would be forced to fly 1980s-era
technology for another 50 years.
Even if the JSF can beat the weight problem, Representative Weldon said the
plane might not be out of danger. Extreme competition for defense budget dollars
may force Congress to ask the service to choose between the JSF and the F/A-22
Several Raptors have already been delivered to the Air Force and are undergoing
rigorous flight and system tests. In one recent test, four Raptors engaged eight
F-15 Eagles in simulated combat. General Keys said the Raptors cleared the sky
of F-15s before many of the Eagles could even get off a shot.
“The F/A-22 is a reality … it is not, to use an expression, a viewgraph
presentation,” said Dr. Marvin R. Sambur, assistant secretary of the Air Force
for acquisition. “The F/A-22 is here, but we’re not pulling away from our
commitment to the JSF.”
Representative Weldon said the service might not have a choice.
“If financial pressure in tactical aviation continues to grow the way it has,
something’s got to give,” he said. “The most likely candidate, if you look at
political pressure, will be something that doesn’t exist yet.”
Dr. Sambur told the lawmakers that despite the growing cost and lengthy research
and development time, it would be impossible to choose one system over the other
because both aircraft are essential to America’s future military operations
“You’ve given us the choice of cutting off our right arm or cutting off our left
arm,” he said. “I want to make sure you understand that the F/A-22 and the JSF
are complementary … and they are both needed. We are committed in the Air Force
to both planes.”