Wednesday, February 17, 2016

F-35 fighter jet’s capabilities far outweigh deficiencies: US Marines - Charles D'Alberto

 Lieutenant-General John Davis, deputy commandant for aviation at the US Marine Corps, with a mockup of a F-35 fighter jet. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

SINGAPORE: Despite heavy criticism over its design, the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet is combat-ready, insisted Lieutenant-General John Davis, deputy commandant for aviation at the US Marine Corps, on Wednesday (Feb 17) at the Singapore Airshow.

The F-35B model was declared operationally capable by the US Marine Corps in July last year, and manufacturer Lockheed Martin told Channel NewsAsia that it expects the US to do the same for the F-35A model in August this year.

The F-35 has been beset by a slew of technical issues ranging from unreliable software to defective ejector seats, since production first started in 2006. Early in February, the Pentagon released a report flagging numerous deficiencies in the jet.

“There's a lot of stuff in the press, but even reading that (Pentagon) report, I don't think I'm making a mistake,” said Lt-Gen Davis.

“Its operational capabilities far outweigh any deficiencies … And deficiencies in a fifth-generation aircraft still make it vastly superior to a fourth-generation one.”

He added that the US Marines are planning to add 420 more F-35s to its fleet.

A mock-up of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 director of business development Steve Over said the company was continually working to iron out any deficiencies in the jet's development programme. He also touted the F-35 as a cost-effective alternative.

“We know that every country buying airplanes wants to get their best value for dollar, so allow me to quote Lieutenant-General Christopher Bogdan, head of the US F-35 programme: ‘In 2019, we are going to have the F-35, with all its remarkable capabilities, be available for less than or equal to the cost of other fourth-generation airplane’,” said Mr Over.

The jet will be priced from US$80 million to US$85 million, he added, noting that Lockheed Martin has “taken innovative steps to get there”, and will work to drive the cost down even more.


The cockpit of the fifth-generation F-35 (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

Touted by Lockheed Martin as the most versatile and lethal fighter of all time, the supersonic stealth F-35 is equipped to handle “today’s developing advanced threat systems” which fourth-generation airplanes - still in use by the likes of the US and Singapore air forces - may not be able to deal with, said Mr Over.

This is due to features such as stealth-covered weaponry, advanced sensors for a pack of F-35s to do battle together, as well as an automated cockpit "that gives the pilot an almost omniscient perspective of the battlespace around him,” said Mr Over.

Lt-Gen Davis, meanwhile, described the F-35 as "not like any system out there”.
“Our captains and majors flying the airplane are very pleased with what they’ve got, and we are doing with four airplanes what other guys would have to do with 13,” he added. “If my son goes into combat, I’d want him in an F-35.”

A mockup of the F-35 is on display at the Airshow, which runs till Sunday Feb 21. There is also a flight simulator, albeit for trade days only (till Feb 19).

Singapore officially announced its interest in procuring F-35 jets in 2013, but has yet to place an order.

“Singapore has been a great client and a great customer,” said Mr Over. “As a Security Cooperative Participant since 2004, they have had a front row seat at the table as we’ve been developing the airplane, and they’ve been able to carefully study the plane and decide when and or if the plane makes sense for them in the future.”

Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in December last year that the nation was still evaluating its interest and “in no hurry” to decide, with the army’s current capabilities serving its needs.

The bulk of the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s fleet is made up of fourth-generation F-16s - sixty of which Lockheed Martin has also been commissioned to upgrade to the tune of over S$1 billion. It was announced in December last year that the American defence contractor is expected to complete work on the F-16s by mid-2023. 

Posted By Charles D'Alberto