WASHINGTON: The best Fourth of July celebrations this year may happen in the evil empire we cast out, if the F-35B flies at the christening of the United Kingdom’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The final details are still being hammered out, and it may all fall apart, but the official announcement is expected soon. Someone clearly thought this might happen — or was really smart — as the British Ministry of Defense had a new CGI-generated photo of an F-35B landing on the Queen Elizabeth (see above) posted on its web site. It’s likely the US Marine Corps is pushing for this to happen: Gen. James Amos, the first jet pilot to serve as Marine Commandant, has campaigned relentlessly for the Marine version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B, to be certified first for Initial Operating Capability and for the plane to be seen publicly as much as possible.
Whether or not it flies at the carrier christening, the F-35B will fly a week later at the Royal International Air Tattoo, where the world’s air chiefs all gather for the famous gala dinner on the Friday night before the Farnborough Air Show begins. And it will fly at Farnborough, arguably the world’s biggest air show. That will be remarkable exposure for an aircraft that has never flown outside the United States before and will be remembered in years to come — presuming all goes well — as a major turning point for the program, especially on the international scene.
Meanwhile, one of the program’s harshest critics, Sen. John McCain, offered some positive comments about the F-35 when I asked him for his views at today’s annual Norwegian American Defense Conference.
“The aircraft itself is turning into a pretty good weapon system,” the senator said, saying that his earlier harsh criticisms of the program had been all about cost and schedule — not the aircraft’s performance. “I never questioned whether it would be a good weapon.”
However, I understand several potential and existing international customers had read about McCain’s criticisms and raised questions with the Pentagon about whether the plane was in good shape. As best I can tell, this is the first time the powerful senator has made positive comments in public about the aircraft’s capabilities.
However, there is absolutely no doubt that McCain believes — as do most reasonable people — that Lockheed Martin really screwed up the first seven years of the program.
“It’s a disgrace,” he said, adding that the F-35 “still isn’t fully operationally capable.” He added that he is “glad” other countries are buying the plane. But he ended his remarks about the F-35 by saying Lockheed and its F-35 brethren “should be ashamed and embarrassed” about their management of the program.