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January 27, 2012

Marine questions value of STOVL jets, Harrier and F-35B

F-35B at sea No. 1 10-03-11Occasionally someone in the active duty military has the courage to go off the script and say what they really think about their service's dogma and pet projects.

Here's a piece by a Marine aviator questioning the value and purpose of the Marine Corps love and commitment to the STOVL fighter-attack airplane, the Harrier and now the costly and complex F-35B.

Other analysts and experts have said it before, probably some Marines too, but in his blog "Boats Against the Current," Peter J. Munson, an active duty officer and KC-130 commander, lays out much of the case against the F-35B. Marine generals love to argue it gives them the capability to go fight close to the front lines, without air bases, but never bother to add how many truckloads of fuel and supplies and men and defense weaponry will have to be hauled over land to that forward base, and at what cost and vulnerability to enemy attack.

Munson writes:

The Harrier has surely been a large part of Marine aviation since 9/11, but its STOVL characteristics were rarely, if ever, critical to the conduct of operations.  If anything, the capability was a liability when it came to the requirement for long on-station times, multiple ordnance options, and tedious scanning of compounds and cities with targeting pods in support of troops on the ground.

While Harriers have conducted some forward rearming and refueling at shorter strips, these were more driven by the Harrier's limitations and the desire to validate its expeditionary capability than a value added to the fight.  That is, while a Harrier was rearming and refueling, a Hornet would be overhead, sensor still on target, refueling from a KC-130, more weapons still on the wing.  

So, when the program hits a rough spot again, which I think it will, and when the budget adjusters come knocking, the Marine Corps needs to be honest about how much STOVL capability it really needs to maintain its close air support capability aboard amphibious shipping, how soon unmanned aerial systems can fill that gap, and what the best option is for the rest of our close air support needs.

One can't help but suspect that when former Defense Secretary Bob Gates put the F-35B on probation last January that he had some of these same arguments in mind but didn't want to fight a war with the Marines in his final months in office. Secretary Panetta last week swooped in and freed the "B," winning friends in USMC HQ and Lockheed Martin, among othe places.

The extraordinary complexity and demands of the F-35B have undoubtedly hampered the whole F-35 problem, creating technical problems and sucking up limited (in Pentagon terms) development dollars and engineering resources. The need to redesign the whole aircraft (all three models) to take out weight was largely an effort to salvage any combat payload for the B-model. Now, with the airframes of early planes showing cracks and wear and tear early in their lives one has to wonder how much of those and future problems will be due to weight reduction for the F-35B.

 - Bob Cox




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I've been saying that for years.

If the Marines really need a STOVL bomber, why don't they just load some bombs on an Osprey?

Gary Lockhart

Before anyone starts putting a lot of credence in Munson's opinions, it would be prudent to take a good long look at his OQR and see what kind of direct experience; not simply tanking, he has in the VMA community.

Peter J. Munson

What is with you and my OQR? What is your background? And are you saying only VMA types are fit to tell us whether or not STOVL should stay around? No one else can have an opinion? That's a sound methodology. This is the sort of thinking that has us in the position we are in today.

Gary Lockhart

Your OQR will tell us where you're coming from, Munson. My background is in the VMAQ community, which more than likely originated long before you even entertained the idea of becoming a Marine aviator. Anyone can have an opinion but there are many opinions that aren't worth the breath that is wasted in expressing them. I've read your blog post and frankly, I'm unimpressed. Most, if not all, of the people who are patting you on the back in cyberspace lack the relevant experience to be lauding your thoughts but they're entitled to be wrong as well.

History, with both the Marine Corps and the UK, has shown that VTOL/STOVL platforms provide greater flexibility when it comes to basing strategies. Was a SATS established at FOB Dwyer to enable Hornet operations or was that unnecessary due to the Harriers that deployed? Can Hornets embark upon and successfully operate from LHAs/LHDs? Have you served in the ACE of a deployed MEU? By reading your OQR, those are questions that we'd have answers to. All I know from what you've posted about yourself is that you're a KC-130 jock. Nothing wrong with flying trash haulers; which would be supporting those VMFA squadrons you champion as well, but your thoughts might be given more credibility if your experience was not limited to serving in the VMGR community. Thus far that's the only experience that I've been able to read about. So now you have the opportunity to expound on that. Have you served in any VMA, VMFA, VMAQ, VMM, HMLA, HMM or HMH squadrons? Any experience in Group or Wing billets? A more detailed CV would do wonders in reducing the amount of salt required to read your musings.

marine battery charger

I suggest before they try out anything with these new boats, they should really check it if it needs severe maintenance. Not for the quality but also for their safety as well.

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