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Close-air support variant of Joint Strike Fighter too heavy

March 26, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Early reports show that the Air Force's next generation close-air support aircraft has a weight problem. Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche told members of the Senate Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on defense the issue was predictable.
"The (F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) has only completed two of an 11-year-development program," the secretary said. "You would expect that at about this time. I can predict what (problems) we're going to see in 2008 because they're natural in the development of the systems."

Being overweight is especially troublesome for the close-air support variant of the F-35 because its primary feature is the capability for short takeoffs and vertical landings. The STOVL version uses a shaft-driven lift fan propulsion system that allows the aircraft to hover and land like a helicopter.

Lockheed Martin originally contracted with the U.S. Marine Corps to build the STOVL variant of the F-35 to replace the aging AV-8B Harrier. The Air Force will take over the program in June, as part of the service's commitment to improving close-air support.

"This aircraft is expected to provide sustainable, focused close-air support for the joint force commander," Secretary Roche told the lawmakers. "Together (with the F/A-22 Raptor) these aircraft will be integral to our support of ground forces in various environments."

The secretary said he expects to work closely with the Marines in developing training courses, based on that service's extensive experience with vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. In the meantime, Secretary Roche promised to make the weight problem a top priority item.

"Is the weight a terminal problem? We don't think so, but because it so severely affects the short takeoff and landing, we think it's prudent and right to work that problem," he said.

JSF acquisition and program management teams are exploring many options to get the aircraft's weight down, including increasing engine thrust.

"We believe (it is) doable and that it's what you would want us to do," Secretary Roche said. "Find the toughest part of the program and work to ? demonstrate that (this is) a viable program."

Courtesy of Air Force Print News