I will bet you have never seen a stealth aircraft land aboard a ship before. Because it hasn’t happened before now. F-35B “Sea Trials” are underway.
There is a lot of talk about cutting this aircraft from the development program. I think that would be a mistake. With the Expeditionary nature of Marine Corps operations having some sort of “organic” air support is critical. Having the ability to do this in a V/STOL manner is an option that is critical.
When I was stationed at MCAS YUMA we had a couple of Harrier squadrons. They were often working their vertical skills at the air station. What I found the most interesting was when we would move to 29 Palms or Pendelton (or elsewhere) and we were landing aircraft in the middle of nowhere. It is very easy to put a Harrier or (at the time) an OV-10 Bronco down on a two lane road. Refuel and get it back in the air.
The Osprey faced a lot of threats to it’s continued development and deployment as well. Now that it has been deployed it is being considered as a vehicle to replace a lot of the VIP transport for US officials.
Laying down an Expeditionary Airfield is a lot of work, but the more we can utilize V/STOL type of aircraft the faster it is to establish that beach head, and the smaller sizes mean it is easier to defend, and can be scaled as necessary to support operations. That scaling can include turning it over to Air Force personnel as a permanent station… or dismantling it and moving forward. Let’s face it as Marines we are all about moving in, moving forward, and turning over operational areas to more garrison oriented services at the appropriate time.
Hey you congress folks out there, the F-35B is an important aircraft in the program. The Marines will make it successful but, perhaps more importantly we will learn more about the technology necessary to produce practical V/STOL aircraft and systems. Remember, the Harrier was a British aircraft, and not developed in the US. Over time, this technical knowledge will filter into the commercial aviation marketplace, and the square footage necessary to support airport operations in urban / suburban environments can be reduced. Like any other infrastructure change, it is going to take a long time. Please, don’t take a short sighted view of what this aircraft can mean to the US.