|Such a nice summer day, too...|
The timing of this comes at a particularly precarious time in the JSF program. European support for the F-35 is less than stellar at the moment. It was hoped that the F-35's presence during the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough Air Show this month would give JSF boosters something to be proud of.
As it is, today's hoped for flyby during the HMS Queen Elizabeth's naming ceremony is off. Instead, the part of the F-35 was played by a 50-year old de Havilland Sea Vixen. Participation at RIAT (July 11th) is as good as cancelled, as the F-35's 36 hour turnaround time would require the grounding be lifted almost immediately. Currently the best that could be hoped for is an appearance at the tail end of the Farnborough Air Show, which begins July 14th and runs until the 20th.
This is clearly embarrassing for all those involved. To get a clear picture of how embarrassing, the Pentagon's news release for this came at 9:03PM July 3rd, right before the July 4th long weekend. Known as an "info dump", this practice attempts to bury bad news by releasing it at a time when people's attention are set on other things.
It is still unclear what caused the engine fire, or if it is related to the short-lived grounding in in June due to a faulty oil valve.
All said this is very bad news for the Joint Strike Fighter program. Almost 10 years behind schedule, billions over budget, and nowhere near the amount of expected orders; the JSF office desperately needs some good PR. Instead, defense ministers are forced to stand beside fiberglass mock-ups instead of the real deal.
Any excuse stating that the JSF is still early in its development is delusional. There are currently more F-35s in existence then there are CF-18s in the RCAF. The F-35's first flight was in 2006. Back then, the Apple iPhone was yet to be released. The Hummer H3 was declared "Truck of the Year". George W. Bush was still president of the USA and Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada.
|"I was crossing the Atlantic before it was cool."|
Current plans are for the F-35B to achieve IOC (initial operating capability) with the USMC in late 2015. That leaves slightly over a year to turn a plane that cannot cross the Atlantic because it spontaneously catches on fire into a world-class weapon system capable of engaging hostile threats.
Since the F-35's appearance in Britain this month is now very much in doubt, I'll use a popular British term to describe the JSF's current status: OMNISHAMBLES.