The USMC is not reducing the program or record of 420 F-35 Lightning II strike fighters.
The US Marine Corps (USMC) plans to reduce the number of F-35 Lightning II strike fighters planned for some Marine fighter attack squadrons but is not reducing the program or record of 420 F-35s, Sea Power Magazine reports.
According to the 2022 Marine Corps Aviation Plan released last week, the service shows that in some squadrons it will reduce the number of F-35Bs from 16 to 10 aircraft. Originally the 16 were going to allow for a six-plane detachment on board an amphibious assault ship in addition to a 10-plane land-based force. In the current plan, all F-35B (and carrier-capable F-35C) squadrons will be equipped with 10 aircraft.
The plan for F-35 squadrons is in accord with Marine Corps Commandant David H. Berger’s Force Design 2030 plan for restructuring the Marine Corps.
The change in the numbers in the F-35 squadrons “really had to do with what is the optimum way, so starting with the requirement and moving backwards,’ said Lt. Gen. Mark Wise, deputy commandant for Aviation, speaking to reporters May 2 at the Pentagon.
“The F-35 is designed to deploy as a division, so 10-airplane [squadrons] were designed to field two divisions with two [aircraft] in backup. That is the model that we believe is the right direction to go for a Marine expeditionary unit. That way you’re deploying a whole squadron as well. You’re not leaving pieces of it behind. So, you don’t have a command element that’s got to go to one side or go to the other side. With that said, we will continue to learn and evolve and experiment and wargame and do all the things we’ve been doing to make sure that number is right. We have to make sure that the rest of the ACE [Aviation Combat Element] on board the L-class ships, are the numbers are balanced appropriately? Do they all fit? Is all the maintenance able to be done? So, there’s some experimentation to go to make sure we’ve got it perfectly right, but we think we’re off to a pretty good start.”
Wise said that “overall, our POR [program of record] still remains the same [at 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs] because if you look at the entirety of the program from start to now, there were certain affordability decisions made early on that had to do with things like our attrition model was truncated in order to meet affordability concerns. So, if you take the attrition model and expand it back to the numbers that we have for those 18 active and two reserve squadrons, your number actually ends up being our POR.”
Thanks to the F-35B for the first time in aviation history, supersonic, radar-evading stealth comes with short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) capability. The F-35B has unequaled basing flexibility and advanced network-enabled mission systems that provide unprecedented multimission capability across the spectrum of operations and is an essential enabler for other forces in the battlespace. The F-35B redefines the multirole fighter.
Increasingly, modern security challenges require wider distribution of forces and capabilities across a range of scenarios. STOVL capability gives the F-35B the unique capability to operate from a variety of ships, roads and austere bases near frontline combat zones, greatly enhancing sortie generation rates. The unmatched basing of the F-35B – ashore and afloat – provides more employment flexibility in any scenario.
Moreover, the Marine Corps possessing the capability to deploy the F-35C is significant as the F-35C was designed and built specifically for aircraft carrier operations and brings with it the ability to enhance the inherent battlespace awareness of all naval aircraft it operates alongside. Deploying this asset in a contested maritime region provides the Marine Corps a flexible, mobile force that provides security to the United States and allied nations abroad, contributes to regional stability and expands the US military advantage at sea.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maci Sternod