The US Department of the Navy has signed a Tactical Air memorandum of understanding (MoU) which will see the US Marine Corps acquire 80 F-35C JSFs for carrier operations, in addition to 340 F-35B STOVL variants.
The MoU, signed by Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead and Commander of the Marine Corps General James Amos last week, includes provisions for the US Navy to purchase 260 F-35Cs, with the Marine Corps substituting 80 STOVL F-35Bs for carrier variant F-35Cs. Consequently, the MoU intends to see the number of Marine carrier-capable squadrons raised from its current number of three to five.
Nonetheless, despite the reduction in F-35B numbers, “it is important to note that the continued development of the F-35B remains the centerpiece” of USMC tactical airpower, the agreement stresses.
The Navy plans to stand up its first F-35C squadron by December 2015, with a planned fleet of 10 carrier air wings, totalling 44 strike fighters per wing. The Marines will follow with its first F-35C squadron in December 2016.
The recent announcement follows US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ decision to put the F-35B on a two-year probation after it incurred significant developmental problems relating to its fuselage bulkhead and propulsion systems.