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Over the Horizon: The Transformative Capabilities of the F-35B

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011

On Monday, an F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter completed its first vertical landing at sea, aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. The F-35B has been the most troubled of the problem-beset F-35 family, suffering from a variety of teething pains as well as concerns about range, payload and stealth characteristics. As the Defense Department worries about austerity, some have targeted the F-35, and the B model in particular, for cuts. A recent article in the Marine Corps Gazette suggested that the United States Marine Corps, heretofore the strongest proponent of the F-35B, should abandon the aircraft in favor of a mix of F-22 Raptors and light attack aircraft.

Given Congress' unwillingness to pursue additional revenue, the current Defense Department budget cannot be sustained. Cuts will be necessary, but the F-35B is the wrong place to look. The F-35B provides a virtually unique capability for transforming amphibious assault ships into light strike/air superiority aircraft carriers. In export and international production, the F-35B can similarly transform warships such as the Japanese Hyuga-class Helicopter-Carrying Destroyer into light carriers capable of strike and air superiority missions. The F-35B is a force multiplier in the literal sense: It turns amphibious warships with limited strike capabilities into aircraft carriers roughly as capable as their most formidable foreign counterparts. ...

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