On Mar. 14, 2014, Luke Air Force Base hosted a ceremony for the arrival of the first F-35 (Tail Number LF 5030), the 5th generation stealth fighter that will equip the 56th Fighter Wing.
“The F-35 Lightning II represents the future of tactical aviation for the United States and our allies.” With these words, U.S. Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, Commander, Air Education and Training Command, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas accepted the first of 144 F-35As to be delivered to the 56th FW.
Rand remarked that the arrival of the first Luke’s F-35 is a milestone for the Joint Strike Fighter Program and for the base itself because “this program is built on a foundation of unprecedented international partnership that is embodied at the integrated training center at Luke AFB. Together, we will train the next generation of pilots who will protect freedom at home and abroad.”
Built and developed to replace a wide variety of aircraft such as the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F/A-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps plus other several types of fourth generation aircraft in numerous air forces worldwide, “the F-35 Lightning II will provide the USAF and international partners a decisive edge over its adversaries” said Lockheed Martin F-35 program general manager Lorraine Martin.
To celebrate this achievement, following the F-35 delivery ceremony, an example of World War II P-38 Lightning fighter took the skies over Luke Air Force base alongside with an F-35 Lightning II performing a typical heritage flyby to celebrate Lockheed legacy between these namesake machines.
Name aside, considering that the Lightning II is still affected by several problems, the question is: will the F-35 able to replicate the success of its predecessor?
On Feb. 25, Royal Air Force pilot, Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols, flew in a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II during the first short take-off and vertical landing sortie by a United Kingdom pilot at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida, where British pilots and ground crews are undertaking training alongside their Marines counterparts.
The USMC began flying STOVL sorties at Eglin in October last year.
The sum allocated to the procurement of the future aircraft is around 2.8B Polish Zloty (930M USD).
Considered the strong ties with Lockheed Martin (the Polish Air Force already operates the F-16 Block 52+), the first candidate for the role of Warsaw’s future aircraft is the F-35. But since F-35A has a pricetag around 100 USD million apiece, the purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter is quite unlikely.
The Lightning II is very expensive, and would seriously hamper the rest of the Polish Armed Forces modernization plan, which includes new helicopters, submarines, new air defenses and anti-missile shield.
The present and future of the F-35, A-10 and other platforms in the vision of the U.S. Air Force Air Command Command Chief.
In an interesting, open and somehow surprising interview given to Air Force Times, Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage, explained the hard choices made by the Air Force as a consequence of the budget cuts and highlighted the position of the service for what concerns the F-35.
First of all, forget any chance the A-10 will survive. According to Hostage, one of the few ways to save some money cut from the budget is to retire an entire weapon system. And, even though the Warthog “can still get the job done”, the plane does not seem to be the weapon of choice in future conflicts, in which “the A-10 is totally useless“.
Obviously, a less drastic solution, as keeping half of the A-10 fleet in active service, is not viable as it would still require much of the costly support infrastructures the whole fleet need.
Another problem is in the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) domain. Politics urge the Air Force to keep buying Global Hawks, hence, given the current budget picture, the Air Force can’t afford both the U-2 Dragon Lady and the Global Hawk. That’s why the ACC Commander “will likely have to give up the U-2″ and spend much money to try to get the large Northrop Grumman drone do the same things the U-2 has done for decades.
Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, Hostage says he is “going to fight to the death to protect the F-35″ since the only way to keep up with the adversaries, which “are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet”, is by employing a sufficient fleet of 1,763 (“not one less”) F-35s. You can update and upgrade the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they would still become obsolete in the next decade.
But, the F-22 Raptor will have to support the F-35. And here comes another problem. When the Raptor was produced it was flying “with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system.” Still, the U.S. Air Force was forced to use the stealth fighter plane as it was, because that was the way the spec was written. But now, the F-22 must be upgraded through a costly service life extension plan and modernisation program because, “If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22,” says Hostage to Air Force Times.