AF Officials And Legislators Debate Funding
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
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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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
complimentary … and they are both needed. We are committed
in the Air Force to both planes.”
ANN thanks USAF Master Sgt. Scott Elliott for this article.