In the discussion comments about restarting the F-22 production line, a comment was made that the F-22 and F-18 aren’t STOVL (Short TakeOff Vertical Landing). This comment prompted me to think - is there really any value to STOVL for the USN?
Before I go any further, let me be quite clear and upfront about why I’m writing this post. I am absolutely not using this as an opportunity to embarrass the person who wrote the comment. Just the opposite, in fact. The comment inspired me to continue the discussion and for that I sincerely thank the writer. So, moving on.
Once upon a time we dreamed of hordes of jump jets operating from patches of jungle, rising up from nowhere, striking, and vanishing again with the enemy left helplessly trying to track down individual, well hidden mini-bases. A nice idea, huh? Well, reality has long proven that the dream is just that - a dream. The logistics of supplying dozens of remote bases with fuel, munitions, and parts renders the concept void. Further, modern stealth jets, the F-35B, in this case, require exquisite and extensive maintenance – hardly an enabler of remote bases.
The concept has never been used and as modern aircraft become ever more complex, the likelihood of it ever happening is as close to zero as can be.
That leaves operating from LHx amphibious vessels. Now this is the real question: does the ability to operate a dozen STOVL aircraft really gain us enough to justify the impact on the LHx's main function which is delivery of fully equipped troops ashore?
Given the significantly reduced size of current air wings, couldn’t we base the dozen extra F-35s on one of the carriers? There will always be one or more around if we’re conducting amphibious operations. Operating from a carrier will free up spots on the LHx for transport helos/V-22s and eliminate an entire maintenance line. The carrier will already operate and maintain F-35s so, again, it makes sense to base the F-35Bs on the carrier.
Of course, this immediately leads to the next logical question: why do we even need the F-35B if we’re going to base them on a carrier? They have less range and less payload. Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply have more F-35Cs?
OK, that covers the USN’s needs. What about our allies? Well, they have small carriers or limited carriers (like the Royal Navy) and may well have to operate a STOVL aircraft. Honestly, I’m not familiar enough with foreign navies to understand their situations with certainty. Still, are the needs of our allies enough to justify the abomination of a program that F-35 has become – and the F-35B is one of the major contributors to the disaster?
What are we talking about for total F-35B sales? A couple hundred? Is that sufficient justification? If it is, let the STOVL aircraft be a dedicated program with our allies paying the full cost. I suspect we’d find that STOVL wasn’t all that important to them.
Recognize that I’m not trashing our allies. They’re quite logically jumping on board to gain what benefit they can. However, both the
and our allies need to recognize what the F-35 is
doing to their budgets and their force structure. The countries that want the F-35 will be
forced to sacrifice major assets to free up enough money to get the aircraft or
they will have to cut the buys to the point where, again, you have to ask what
the value is. US
The F-35, in general, and the F-35B, in particular, have wrecked the US Marine Corps force structure and many of our allies budgets and force structures, all in the name of a STOVL capability that is of very limited value.