Not only would the F-35 take off from land bases like most conventional fighters do—it would also be able to launch from aircraft carriers and lift off vertically from smaller assault ships.
To do all these things today, the Pentagon possesses no fewer than eight different types of fighters. Dogfighting F-15s and F-16s. Hard-hitting A-10 ground-attack planes. Several kinds of carrier-launched F/A-18s. Vertical-takeoff Harriers.
Winnowing down from eight fighter models to just three versions of the same basic plane design would, in the military estimation, boost efficiency in production, training, and spare parts and save tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars.
That assumed that the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C would be highly similar. You’d build one basic fuselage and cockpit and fit different wings or the extra engine, as needed. The military aimed for 70-percent “commonality.” In other words, three-quarters of, say, an Air Force F-35A would match, for example, a Navy F-35C.
70 percent commonality proved impossible, as each military branch demanded increasingly specific qualities in its F-35s. As a result, today the various models are mostly incompatible. “It’s 20- to 25-percent commonality,” Bogdan said on March 10.
Indeed, the main thing the three different variants have in common is their F-35 designation. Otherwise, they’re essentially different airplane designs—the very thing the Joint Strike Fighter program had, at its outset, endeavored to avoid.
The lack of commonality helps explain the F-35’s high price. Each plane costs more than $100 million, tens of millions more than Lockheed and the military had predicted early in the program. Sticker shock has compelled the Air Force, in particular, to cut the number of F-35s it buys every year. The flying branch had hoped to be procuring as many as 80 F-35s annually by now. Instead, it’s getting fewer than 50.
Military Admits Billion-Dollar War Toy F-35 Is F**ked