In As You Like It, William Shakespeare penned the question, “Can one desire too much of a good thing?” More than 400 years later, we can answer emphatically no, you can never have too much, especially when it comes to good news. As the tempo of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test flights increased in June, so has the frequency of major milestones achieved. In fact, we can count at least three during the last two weeks.
First, the U.S. Navy F-35C carrier variant made its inaugural flight earlier this month, taking off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. Powered by a production configuration F135, the F-35C logged about an hour of flight time. The F135 Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) / Carrier Variant (CV) engine received federal government Initial Service Release certification in February, indicating that the engine meets all requirements for safety, reliability, durability and performance, and is therefore cleared for use in the field.
Second, Pratt & Whitney recently celebrated the first installation of a production F135 into a production F-35 aircraft. This marks an important step as this will be the first F-35 aircraft powered by an F135 engine that is destined for our U.S. military.
Last but certainly not least, the F-35B short takeoff, vertical land (STOVL) aircraft achieved supersonic flight for the first time, climbing to 30,000 feet near Naval Air Station Patuxent River and then reaching Mach 1.07. Future tests will eventually expand its flight envelope to its Mach 1.6 maximum. However, it is already clear that the F-35B’s unique combination of short take-off/vertical landing capabilities and supersonic performance will provide the U.S. Marine Corps, United Kingdom and Italy with unprecedented performance and flexibility to operate from smaller ships or austere bases worldwide.
The sum of these milestones is further undeniable proof that the Pratt & Whitney F135 is performing exceptionally well; first in development testing and validation, followed by full production and sustainment. Yet proponents of the F136 extra engine still wage a misleading campaign with brazen disregard to our warfighters, Secretary of Defense, two Presidents and the taxpayers, to try to encourage Congress to continue earmarking funds for this unwanted, unneeded, unaffordable piece of hardware.
In testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 16, – Defense, Secretary Robert Gates fired back by stating, “We have reached a critical point in this debate where spending more money on a second engine for the JSF is unnecessary, wasteful and simply diverts precious modernization funds from other more pressing priorities. Accordingly, should the Congress add more funds to continue this unneeded program, I will continue to strongly recommend that the president veto such legislation.”
Clarity of language, backed by singular intent, is no less important now than in Shakespeare’s time, especially when the stakes are so high. And while the Bard of Avon might not have posed his question in the context of a fifth generation fighter propulsion system, we won’t shy away from celebrating success at every turn. Production of the ISR-certified F135 is more than our job, it’s an integral part of serving American and allied forces today and in the decades to come. We’ll leave the drama to others.