March 24, 2004 (by Air Force) - A senior Air Force official told lawmakers March 25 that the service would not be interested in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter if a technical glitch could not be overcome or if program funds were cut off.
Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys, deputy chief of staff for air and space operations, bluntly told members of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, "If we can't build it, we're not going to buy it."
The general's comment came in response to subcommittee chairman Rep. Curt Weldon's question about Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche's testimony March 24 before the Senate Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
In referring to chronic weight problems with the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the JSF
, the secretary said, "? (R)isk reduction on the STOVL
becomes one of the paramount things to do - because if we cannot build the STOVL aircraft, then we really cannot proceed with the F-35 program."
Being overweight is especially troublesome for the close-air support variant of the F-35, because its primary feature is the short takeoff and vertical landing capability. The STOVL JSF 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 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, officials said.
"If it doesn't meet specifications, I don't think my Marine colleagues would be interested in an airplane that wouldn't meet their qualifications," General Keys said.
While Secretary Roche did acknowledge concern over the JSF's weight problem, he also said the problem was to be expected - it is in only the second year of an 11-year development program.
"Is the weight a terminal problem? We don't think so, but because it most severely effects the short takeoff and landing, we believe it's prudent and right, and our responsibility, to work the problem," Secretary Roche said in his previous testimony.
John J. Young Jr., assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, agreed.
"There is nothing we see that says the JSF will not work," he said. "The JSF enables concepts of operations that none of today's legacy aircraft can accomplish."
The JSF is expected to fly and fight into the 2040 to 2050 timeframe. Mr. Young said that without the JSF, the services would be forced to fly 1980s-era technology for another 50 years.
Even if the JSF can beat the weight problem, Representative Weldon said the plane might not be out of danger. Extreme competition for defense budget dollars may force Congress to ask the service to choose between the JSF and the F/A-22 Raptor.
Several Raptors have already been delivered to the Air Force and are undergoing rigorous flight and system tests. In one recent test, four Raptors engaged eight F-15 Eagles in simulated combat. General Keys said the Raptors cleared the sky of F-15s before many of the Eagles could even get off a shot.
"The F/A-22 is a reality - it is not, to use an expression, a viewgraph presentation," said Dr. Marvin R. Sambur, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. "The F/A-22 is here, but we're not pulling away from our commitment to the JSF."
Representative Weldon said the service might not have a choice.
"If financial pressure in tactical aviation continues to grow the way it has, something's got to give," he said. "The most likely candidate, if you look at political pressure, will be something that doesn't exist yet."
Dr. Sambur told the lawmakers that despite the growing cost and lengthy research and development time, it would be impossible to choose one system over the other because both aircraft are essential to America's future military operations
"You've given us the choice of cutting off our right arm or cutting off our left arm," he said. "I want to make sure you understand that the F/A-22 and the JSF are complementary - and they are both needed. We are committed in the Air Force to both planes."