The U.S. Marine Corps has received its first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that, in theory, is meant for actual combat. But that doesn’t mean the pricey, long-delayed JSF is going to be dropping bombs on enemy targets anytime soon. The Lockheed Martin-built plane’s computerized logistical system, flight software and special helmet still aren’t ready — and it lacks weapons.
No, the Marines have taken possession of the combat-designated, but not combat-ready, F-35 in order to begin building up its stealth-fighter fleet. Not yet, anyway. The advance preparation should ensure that the Corps can send the new JSF squadrons into combat the moment the jet is finally fully equipped … whenever that might be.
“The Marines are determined to get this plane into the field as soon as it can be safely accomplished,” Loren Thompson, a Lockheed consultant, told Reuters. “They don’t want to be slowed down by bureaucratic obstacles.” Instead, it’s the technical obstacles that are dictating the timing of the F-35′s combat readiness. No one is sure precisely when the jet will get the critical missing items, but it could be years.
Of all the military branches acquiring F-35s through history’s most expensive weapons procurement effort, the Marines need the stealthy jet the most. The Corps’ existing Hornet and Harrier fighters are old and too few in number, especially after a Taliban attack on an air base in Afghanistan in September destroyed 1/15th of the Harrier fleet. “We have equipment that has got to be recapitalized,” Marine commandant Gen. James Amos said last year.
What’s more, the amphibious branch is already working with the Navy to build two multi-billion-dollar aircraft carriers specifically intended to carry F-35s. The Corps has more JSF pilots in training than it has frontline jets for them to fly.