HAVELOCK | The deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation said Tuesday that the Joint Strike Fighter is changing the way the service will bring the fight to the enemy.
Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, a former commander of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, compared the F-35B to the V-22 Osprey in the way the Marine Corps has shaped its approach to aviation.
Davis spoke Tuesday to about 100 people at a meeting of Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center. Earlier in the day, Davis had spoken in New Bern at the opening of the Marine Corps Aviation Association Symposium at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center.
“The F-35 is quantitatively changing the way that we fly, much like the V-22 did,” said Davis. “When the big one happens, when the really big day happens, you are going to want your sons and daughters and your Marines to deploy from this base in the F-35 to go carry the day.”
Davis said that there were some skeptics when the Marine Corps invested in the V-22 Osprey, a rotor aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and transitions to forward flight like a conventional plane.
But a decade later, the Osprey is in high demand, he said.
“We are loving the V-22 to death. The bottom line is it’s is the most in-demand platform in the entire Department of Defense,” Davis said. “We are fielding V-22 units faster than we can train maintainers to maintain it.”
Now the Marine Corps is making a massive investment in the F-35B, a short takeoff and landing jet that, like the V-22, has been subject to critics.
“People say maybe you should buy a lesser capable airplane, a little less technology. Those people are nuts,” Davis said. “We’re going to buy the very best gear for our Marines.”
Cherry Point is scheduled to get six to seven squadrons of the aircraft beginning in 2022.
“I can’t get that airplane into the hands of my Marines and maintainers fast enough,” said Davis. “You want to know what you can do to help? Help me fight the fight to get F-35s as quickly as you can.”
The F-35B is replacing the Marine Corps’ fleet of AV-8B Harrier, the EA-6B Prowler and the F/A-18 Hornet.
Harrier jets, an early short takeoff and vertical landing jet platform, have been familiar in the skies over Cherry Point for decades, but they are getting old and difficult to maintain, Davis said.
“We can only get so much life out of these airplanes,” he said. “Being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money, I’m sure there’s a way I can find enough of those to cobble together a squadron, but after a point, it’s not going to do the trick. But if you are talking force and readiness for our nation’s darkest hour, the gear we’ve had that we’ve used so well has been phenomenal. Now it’s time to bring in the new gear. We’re buying a new jet.”
According to Davis, the planned construction of an F-35B lift fan facility at Fleet Readiness Center East is important in getting more of the jets into the air, but hangars and infrastructure are important too for Cherry Point.
“The lift fan facility will happen, just a little bit of fisticuffs about who pays for it, but it will happen,” Davis said. “The lift fan is important. Hangars are important. Infrastructure’s important. If you build it, we will come.”
The current plan is for the Marine Corps to receive 21 new F-35Bs each year from Lockheed Martin.
“Lockheed Martin can do 24 and they actually think they can scale to 30. That’s a lot, but I could use a lot right now,” Davis said. “The bottom line, we have to find a way to pay for them inside the budget. You pay a certain amount of money to maintain older airplanes, and at the end of the day if your job is readiness and to be a force of readiness against an uncertain foe, you’d want those new airplanes as quickly as you can.”
Just the airframe for the F-35B costs $104 million, according to Lockheed Martin, and that doesn’t include the engine.
“It’s about making the sky black with airplanes and getting the great war fighting tools in the hands of our Marines as quickly as we can,” Davis said.