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Navy has to wait for F-35 and will extend the life of its F-18

The United States Navy plans to battle an expected fighter gap by keeping its oldest F/A-18 Hornet fighter craft in the air over the next 10 years, even though major concerns remain related to the next-generation of fighter aircraft.

There is a concern if the Navy halts F-18 production, an expected fighter gap of about 200 aircraft could dampen the Navy's air superiority.  Specifically, there is a concern the fighter gap will impact the Navy's aircraft carrier fleet, as the F-18 Hornet remains a popular aircraft for use in missions from carriers.

However, Navy Rear Adm. Mike Manazir and Lockheed Martin said it may be possible the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter F-35C aircraft will be ready for deployment in late 2016.  

Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the F-18 would be phased out as the Navy transitioned to the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet -- but delays, engine problems, and budget issues have led some to lose faith in the program.

The GE/Rolls-Royce F136 engine has been given a lifeline -- for now -- and will be funded as an alternative to the current F135 engine from Pratt & Whitney.

"The Marine Corps is committed to an all-STOVL force,” Manazir recently claimed.  That means “we are in discussions with the Marine Corps on how we would” integrate the two services’ fighters on a carrier.  The F-35C has longer range, more cargo capacity, and is optimized for carrier operations,” he said. “The STOVL [model] is designed differently and so it has slightly different characteristics, so we’re in discussions right now about how you put those two together.”

The USMC plans to replace the F/A-18 with the F-35 as well, but needs to deal with  the same production issues the Navy and Air Force must deal with.  The Air Force hasn't thrown in the towel on the JSF -- and doesn't plan on leaving it behind.





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