August 1, 2010  

Why we need the F-35

The size, scope and technological firsts of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program make it a game-changer for tactical aviation and for the U.S. tactical aircraft industrial base.

They also make it an inevitable candidate for schedule delays and cost overruns. After spiraling costs put the F-35 in breach of the Nunn-McCurdy statute, the Pentagon performed an intensive review and restructured the JSF program.

The Defense Department’s commitment to the JSF, however, remains resolute. Acquisition undersecretary of defense Ashton Carter told Congress the program is “essential to national security” and said no alternatives provide similar capability at less cost. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a man not given to overstatements, described the F-35 as “the root of the core of our combat tactical aircraft in the future.”

Karen Walker examines what makes the F-35 so critical that it seems set to survive the blistering headlines. And Lt. Cmdr. Perry Solomon homes in on the program’s most technologically challenging variant — the short takeoff and vertical landing F-35B — and sees danger in the Marine Corps’ pursuit of an all-STOVL force.