Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Some Question Concept of `Joint' Fighter

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Some Question Concept of `Joint' Fighter

Article excerpt

Military experts have their doubts about the Joint Strike Fighter program and about the Pentagon's decision to drop McDonnell Douglas Corp. from the competition.

"I'm a little surprised that McDonnell lost, given its connections with Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace. . . . I would have gone with McDonnell and Lockheed and dropped the Boeing design, which is more conservative," said Norman Polmar, editor of the U.S. Naval Institute Guide to Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet.

"Also, Boeing hasn't built a fighter plane during the jet age," Polmar said. While the Pentagon will not reveal its exact technical reasons for dropping McDonnell, Polmar has some hunches. "The McDonnell design was clearly the most radical and most risky with a tailless design," Polmar said, "But given the fact this aircraft will be built well in the future and given that we are not facing any immediate threats, I believe we should be taking the risk on a radical design." McDonnell's design for giving the jet short-takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities also was a problem, experts said. The U.S. Marines and Britain's Royal Navy want a version of the JSF with those capabilities. McDonnell's design used a second engine, mounted vertically, for short-takeoff and vertical-landing situations. The weight of that second engine "would have compromised both range and weapon payload," said retired Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll, of the Center for Defense Information in Washington. The U.S. Air Force plans to buy 2,036 Joint Strike Fighters, the Navy 300, the Marines 642 and the Royal Navy 60. The planes are to be built between 2005 and 2030; the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the program at $219 billion. The driving idea behind the JSF is to have a single airframe that could be modified for the four military services' different needs. …

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