Gates: STOVL Variant F-35B is ‘On Two Year Probation’

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    Gates: "As a result, I am placing the STOVL variant on the equivalent of a two-year probation. If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be cancelled. We will also move the development of the Marine variant to the back of the overall JSF production sequence." Photo: Lockheed Martin

    In an effort seen as a way to head off attempts by the White House and some in Congress to cut defense spending in a time of extreme budget pressure, Robert Gates is expected to announce major cuts in arms procurement. These measures follow the plan outlined by Gates in June 2010, cutting about $101.9 billion between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2016. As expected, the Marine Corps will bear much of the fire in terms of program cancellation or delays while other services will focus savings on reducing command, manpower and infrastructure – eliminating civilian positions and contractors, flag and general officers, shouldering the majority of savings.

    Gates: "As a result, I am placing the STOVL variant on the equivalent of a two-year probation. If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be cancelled. We will also move the development of the Marine variant to the back of the overall JSF production sequence." Photo: Lockheed Martin

    While the development of the air forces’ F-35A and carrier variant F-35C is proceeding well, the Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing variant is experiencing significant testing problems.  This troubled aircraft was pushed forward to fulfill the most urgent needs of the corps, will now move to the back of the JSF production sequence.  “I am placing the STOVL variant on the equivalent of a two-year probation” gates announced. ” If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be cancelled.

    Such delay will further erode the Marine Corps air support capability, as the corps needs the new fighter the most, to replace aging AV-8B and F-18C/D fighters. To fill this gap the Marines will get more Navy F/A-18s. It is still unclear if these will be ex-Navy Hornets or new Super Hornets which the Corps don’t currently operate. The Navy expects to add more Super Hornets paid for by the budget savings implemented through these cuts.

    Terminating the alternative engine program for the F-35 - the General Electric-Rolls Royce-built F136 engine encountered stiff opposition among lawmakers. Photo: General Electric

    In August 2010, Gates announced plans to eliminate the Joint Forces Command, which is responsible for setting training requirements and doctrine for multiservice operations. He also recommended terminating the F-35 alternative engine program, the General Electric-Rolls Royce-built F136 engine. Both plans encountered stiff opposition from lawmakers.

    Troops Draw Down Ordered

    While cancellation of few expensive programs could trim spending in the short term, draw down of forces, following the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014 could complement these saving. As part of the planned cuts the Army and Marine Corps each have been ordered to draw down as many as 49,000 soldiers by 2015. The Army cuts include a reversal of a temporary 22,000-soldier increase announced in 2009 and an additional 27,000-troop cut. The Marine Corps’ cut could range from 15,000 to 20,000 Marines. The Army currently has about 570,000 soldiers. The Marine Corps completed a 27,000-service member increase to 202,000 personnel last year.