Warplanes: June 23, 2004


Pentagon officials are considering delaying the introduction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for two years as they cope with the fact that the fighter is overweight. Many new aircraft projects over the years have struggled to keep the pounds off during their development, but weight is an especially critically issue with the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the fighter for the Marines and Royal Navy. More pounds on the fighter mean trading off range and/or weapons payload and the STOVL version of the jet lugs around additional equipment to make vertical landings and takeoffs possible. The STOVL version has been reported to be around 3300 pounds overweight at this time, with a targeted empty weight of 30,697 pounds. The Air Force and Navy versions are expected to come in at 1400 pounds heavier than their targeted empty weights of 27,395 and 30,618 pounds respectively.

Compounding the crunch is the fact the primary customer for the STOVL version, the Marine Corps, initially expected to take delivery of the first aircraft off the production line, before the Air Force would receive its conventional takeoff versions and the Navy would get their carrier-specific aircraft. The Marines expected to have the first planes in service by 2010, Air Force in 2011, and Navy in 2012. However, while the Marines would like to retire the AV-8B Harrier attack jet as soon as possible, and needF-35 as a  replacement. The Air Force isnt in a hurry to receive the new fighter and the Navy expects to have the F/A-18 E/F production line running to make up any aircraft shortfalls.

JSF program managers are being conservative with aircraft weight reduction initiatives so they dont cut too much weight and end up sacrificing the airplanes durability in the short term simply to end up with more expensive operational costs over the lifetime of the plane. Doug Mohney


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