USA — Navy Needs F‑35’s Capabilities, Admiral Says

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2010 — The Navy needs the F‑35 Light­ning II joint strike fighter’s fifth-gen­er­a­tion capa­bil­i­ties, the service’s act­ing direc­tor of air war­fare said yes­ter­day.

Navy Rear Adm. Michael C. Man­azir spoke to reporters because he want­ed to “com­plete­ly dis­pel the rumor that the Navy is soft on F‑35C.”

The F‑35C is the air­craft-car­ri­er ver­sion of the joint strike fight­er. The F‑35A mod­el is for the Air Force, and the F‑35B will be a ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing mod­el for the Marines.

The FA-18E and FA-18F Super Hor­nets are great air­planes, Man­azir said, but they do not have the capa­bil­i­ties that the F‑35C’s will bring to the Navy. Delays in the joint strike fight­er pro­gram and the cost increas­es asso­ci­at­ed with them caused some sup­po­si­tion that the Navy would turn to the FA-18s, he added.

The Navy has had the F‑35C on its hori­zon for more than a decade, the admi­ral said. In that time, the FA-18’s capa­bil­i­ties have grown, with the lat­est air­craft – the E, F and G mod­els – reach­ing the fourth-gen­er­a­tion airframe’s lim­its. “We need to move into the F‑35C to real­ize our vision of tac­ti­cal air com­ing off of car­ri­ers,” he said.

The joint strike fight­er brings stealth capa­bil­i­ties, advanced sen­sor and data fusion, and a sys­tems approach to warfight­ing, Man­azir said. “We’re com­plete­ly com­mit­ted to the F‑35C,” he added, not­ing that stay­ing with the Super Hor­net would put the Unit­ed States at a dis­ad­van­tage against a near-peer com­peti­tor.

Still, the admi­ral said, the Super Hor­net pro­gram is not end­ing, just yet. The Navy wants to buy 124 of the air­craft through fis­cal 2013 to bring its num­ber of Super Hor­nets to 515. Begin­ning in fis­cal 2016, he said, air­craft car­ri­ers will deploy with a mix of Super Hor­nets and F‑35C’s. The Navy needs 44 strike fight­ers per flight deck, he added.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates ordered a restruc­tur­ing of the joint strike fight­er pro­gram last year. That effort allowed the Navy to move an addi­tion­al air­craft into flight tests, and to buy a soft­ware line “that gives us addi­tion­al inte­gra­tion capa­bil­i­ty and added risk reduc­tion in soft­ware, which is always the tough­est thing to do in a new pro­gram,” Man­azir said. Oper­a­tional test­ing will move to April 2016, and this will ful­fill all pre­req­ui­sites for ini­tial oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty, he told reporters.

The first deploy­ment of the new air­craft will be Decem­ber 2016, with the sec­ond deploy­ment in Feb­ru­ary 2017.

The Navy faces a short­fall of fight­er air­craft, the admi­ral not­ed. “With­out mit­i­ga­tions, … [the short­fall] is about 177 total Depart­ment of the Navy air­planes,” he said. “That peaks in 2017.”

Mit­i­ga­tion efforts bring that num­ber down to about 100, he said. That could drop fur­ther, he added, if the demands on the fleet lessen – a con­clu­sion the admi­ral said he is not going to make, giv­en the uncer­tain times. “We are focused on address­ing that short­fall,” he said.

The Navy does not have a short­fall in strike air­craft today, Man­azir said, but the expect­ed wear-out date for its inven­to­ry begins in fis­cal 2012.

The 1,180 strike air­craft now in the Navy’s inven­to­ry fall with­in the scope of the service’s main­te­nance capa­bil­i­ties, while pro­vid­ing the planes need­ed for a rota­tion­al force, the admi­ral said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)