Tuesday, December 18, 2007

F-35B: The Essential Vertol

Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard doesn't understand the need for the F--35B, the short take-off, vertical lift version (STOVL or vertol) of the F-35 Lightning II:

...I've never found the rationale for STOVL very convincing. The Marines want to be able to operate from remote bases close to the battle, but a first-class Navy ought to be able to seize and build landing strips, position aircraft carriers, refuel in mid-air, etc., so as to obviate the need for STOVL. Our allies, the British and the Italians specifically, operate small carriers that rely on STOVL aircraft. So it makes a lot of sense as an export. But the added cost in R&D is substantial, and it has long since become a serious drag on an already expensive program.

Some may recall the original rationale for vertol aircraft like the classic Harrier, was the need for NATO to have some type of survivable jets after the likely destruction of our forward airbases by the Soviets along the Central Front during the Cold War. This still seems to be the rationale for the RAF's plan to replace their own Harriers in the near future, as well as our own Air Force toying with the idea as an attack plane to replace the A-10.

So we see it not just for the Navy's sake that we need the F-35B. Had I my druthers, I would see the entire line of the Lightning II produce the vertol version, backed up by swarms of UAVs.