F-35: The Joint Strike Fighter of the Future
Since the beginning of World War I, key military analysts have begun to realize the importance of airpower over the battlefield. It has been said throughout the years that “he who controls the air, also controls the battlefield”. Though some have disputed this statement, the truth has always been proven to analysts after the war when evaluations can be made. The three branches of military that currently use fighter/bomber aircraft are the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. During the military’s vast aviation history, all three branches of service have used separate aircraft. In his book “Ultimate Fighter”, Bill Sweetman, an experienced aviation journalist, states that “if there was one element of Joint Advanced Strike Technology that aroused skepticism, it was the idea that one aircraft could work for every service” (42). That is exactly what the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program hopes to accomplish, but can it? The F-35 is attempting to do what many have failed at previously: meet the specific needs and requirements of all three service branches, incorporate years of compiled information into state-of-the-art equipment, and accomplish all this at a very competitive price.
A good analogy of the relationship between the military and the government concerning finances is similar to siblings fighting for money from their parents. One sibling may want an action figure, while the other desires a video game. The parent is then left trying to decide which child will get their way. For years, the government has basically let each branch get their way, at least where aircraft are concerned. With defense budget cutbacks on the increase, ideas have started to arise regarding the development of one aircraft for all to share. The problem concerning the individual development of an aircraft for each branch is the huge costs associated with it. The Marines could require more than 350 new aircraft to replace its current aging inventory of AV-8 Harriers, and the Navy could request up to 430 for their forces. These are the small estimates. The Air Force is expected to request between 1,000-1,200 aircraft to replace their current inventory of F-16’s (F-35 Lightning II). With the multi-million dollar price tag for each aircraft, where would the money come from to provide each branch with there own custom aircraft? That is the exact argument key military analysts used to persuade the government on why the idea of developing a JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) is imperative for the future success of the United States military. Not surprisingly, other allied nations have also become partners in the JSF program because they, too, are needing replacement aircraft for their militaries. Just a few of the key investors in this massive project are the United Kingdom and Italy, both signing multi-billion dollar contracts to become cooperating partners (F-35 Program). With the vast economic benefits associated with being apart of this program, it was in most cases the ministry of trade, not the ministry of defense, that was in favor of a partnership (F-35 Lightning II). With the financial assistance from other nations, it has become only a matter of time before major aeronautical companies begin competing for the contract to build the JSF. According to Sweetman, the basic requirements for the aircraft consisted of “three principle tasks: prove the design’s up-and-away performance characteristics; demonstrate low-speed performance; and show that the Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant worked” (50). With the stakes high, many design concepts were starting to be tested, but two companies’ concepts clearly began to stand out from the rest. After months of rigorous testing, engineers from both sides finally released their prototypes, otherwise known as Concept Demonstration Aircraft (CDA) (Sweetman 50). Boeing, with their X-32 concept and Lockheed Martin, with their X-35 concept,...
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