F-35C in trouble?

Last night, I was chatting with friends who noted that the F-35B STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter had just completed its at-sea quals. The question arose, “What was the last jet that failed its quals?” As far as I know, the F-111B held that honor.

Interestingly, now news is coming out that the “C” model variant of the JSF, intended to operate from the Navy’s big deck carriers, seems to have a little problems. The tailhook isn’t… hooking.

The U.S. Navy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) known as the F-35C is at serious risk of never being able to land aboard an aircraft carrier. This also poses a risk to the U.K. aircraft carrier program which is supposed to use the F-35C at the end of the decade.

Eric L. Palmer, the author of that piece, has never been what you might call enthusiastic about the JSF program. We’re not as critical ourselves, but we sure aren’t full throated supporters of it either.

When the program began, the Navy wanted a twin engine, preferably twin seat, aircraft. As a result of “cost saving” measures, the DoD consolidated the replacement program for the F-16, the F/A-18A/C, and the AV-8B into one airframe, and then put the Air Force in charge.  Two points. One, history shows that if you want to have a fighter operate both at sea and ashore, design it to operate at sea, first, then modify it to operate ashore. The Air Force doesn’t heed that lesson. Secondly, and even worse, the insistence on a STOVL variant drove the entire design of all three variants of the jet, and added untold complexity, weight and cost. As usual, trying to use one jet to fulfill three different roles has meant that program costs skyrocketed, and performance suffered.

Via War News Updates.

11 thoughts on “F-35C in trouble?”

  1. Sounds like a procurement rut that government typically falls into: “give us a magic bullet that will solve all of our needs”.

    The problems seem to arise from limited respect for the time-value of invested money (i.e., investment turn-around time), limited respect for the value of multiple quick iterations, limited respect for cost/effort already invested (preferring a complete overhaul or all-new system over of a quick improvement on an existing, proven, tested platform).

  2. This is the same thing that befell the F-111. It was supposed to be a joint aircraft, but by the time it was adapted for both roles, no one wanted it. The Navy got rid of it through the failure of the sea trials, but the Air Force was stuck. They were produced in a limited way, then the program was dropped.

    1. 560 Aardvardks of all models is hardly a “limited” production run, nor is a quarter century of service.

      The Air Force got a great jet out of it. But if they’d been allowed to design it without having to attempt to squeeze in carrier capability and other Navy specific concerns, who knows how good an aiframe they might have gotten?

  3. Why would it be sooooo bad if the Navy’s interceptor and bomber was a different aircraft? We’re going to keep these things for many, many years. It’s a fundamental strength if we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. You never know what the future will bring. We learn more and we are more adaptable if we have a greater variety of aircraft to work with.

    Anyway, an engine failure with a single engine aircraft is a huge problem if you’re flying over the ocean. All naval aircraft should have two engines if possible, and they really should have given the navy the aircraft it wanted. This is not going to save a penny.

  4. The RATIONALE for consolidation is reasonable: simpler replacement parts supply, ability to shift aircraft production to where needed and no duplication of research.

    However it doesn’t work out because we have 3 1/2 forces in competition instead of cooperation. (Air Force, Army, Navy with Marines using Navy for supply and service)

    This will remain so until someone or some disaster manages to cause a unified force to be developed.

    The Navy has a different mission than the Air Force and the Army has a different one than either with the Marines’ mission is more like the Army’s but has to rely on Navy supply and repair and launch from carriers OR land.

    As stated in the article the first failure was allowing the Air Force (or any single force) to take charge of development. Would you want an industrial architect to design your apartment building or home? Or vice-versa.

    Once again our over-complicated and politicized procurement “system” (and I use that word advisedly) has produced an expensive, useless and unsafe weapon system.

  5. Just my two cents worth. In the history of Naval aircraft development, problems with the tail hook were common. IIRC, just one example was the SB2C Helldiver, the WW2 replacement for the SBD Dauntless. Its a technical glitch that usually (though not always) gets a fix. As the technical challenges for Naval aircraft are much tougher, the US Navy should have been the lead service for this ac development. The F4 Phantom II was a good example of a Naval ac being used by the Air Force.

  6. Pity the A-12 program killed the combat aircraft design part of Grumman. We could use a HELLCAT II around now.

    1. If you want a carrier-based aircraft done right, Grumman has always been the go-to company. It’s a shame what happened to them.

  7. The boys here at Edwards laugh when I say in around 8-10 years the CTF will be flying Super Hornets. The entire F-35 program is going to fall on it’s ass.
    ………..When the program began, the Navy wanted a twin engine, preferably twin seat, aircraft. As a result of “cost saving” measures, the DoD consolidated the replacement program for the F-16, the F/A-18A/C, and the AV-8B into one airframe, and then put the Air Force in charge. Two points. One, history shows that if you want to have a fighter operate both at sea and ashore, design it to operate at sea, first, then modify it to operate ashore. The Air Force doesn’t heed that lesson. Secondly, and even worse, the insistence on a STOVL variant drove the entire design of all three variants of the jet, and added untold complexity, weight and cost. As usual, trying to use one jet to fulfill three different roles has meant that program costs skyrocketed, and performance suffered……………..

  8. I think the political hazard is the most dangerous thing to the program. I have no doubt that given enough time the Engineers can make things work, but the product they get will be questionable. I’d go ahead and kill it dead right now and leave it dead. Sell the Brits Super Hornets now and get started on a serious program for the Navy. Preferably an F-22 performance level craft for them, and updated BEagle, and reopen the F-22 line. for the AF.

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