Get the Mission Out There:

The Marine Corps remains committed to its top aviation priority, a full complement of the F-35B Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing variant to replace its AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, so Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told the Defense Writers Group Feb. 1. Conway said that, as a result of frank discussions between the Navy and the Marine Corps on the size of their respective F-35 fleets, no decision would be made about carrier viability for the STOVL version until the first squadron is active, now slated for around 2011. He believes that operational testing and evaluation aboard ship will prove out much as “when the Harrier was brought into the inventory,” said Conway. The Harrier can land and take off while a carrier is still moving downwind, the commandant pointed out, something that the F-35C carrier variant can’t do. The fact that the Navy fields its first F-35Cs three years after the STOVL has aided the argument for carrier testing for the F-35B. “We’re going to get a lot of questions answered,” Conway said. “What the rest of that buy looks like will be in part determined by how successful our squadrons are.” Conway emphasized, too, that there is no parochial budget backstabbing between USAF and the Corps over their respective Joint Strike Fighters. He said he and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley have discussed the F-35 and Moseley “wants the mission out there.” In fact, Conway said that Moseley “wants 35s and a bunch of them,” both USAF’s F-35A and the F-35B. And, according to Conway, “Nobody’s throwing elbows at each other at this point to try and curtail one person’s program for the sake of another and we hope it doesn’t come to that.”