New Navy-Marine working group will unleash the F-35’s full power

By Hope Hodge Seck, Staff writer

In one of his final efforts as commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Joseph Dunford is working to ensure the Marines’ new joint strike fighter achieves its full potential.

Dunford said the F-35B, set to reach initial operational capability for the Marine Corps this summer, had the power to transform Marine operations beyond its function as a cutting-edge new aircraft. He made the comments in a speech at a Washington event hosted by the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus.

By this fall, Dunford said, a Marine general and a Navy flag officer would convene to form a working group with subject-matter experts to explore ways the fighter could better help the Corps to project power from the sea and to collaborate with Navy counterparts.

This effort fits into a larger initiative Dunford announced last month aimed at modernizing the ground combat elements of the Marine air-ground task force, harnessing available aviation technologies and applying lessons learned from the past decade-and-a-half at war. The Marines had invested heavily in their aviation assets over the past decade, developing the revolutionary MV-22B Osprey and now the F-35, Dunford said, but until recently had not examined ways to use the platforms to improve the whole force.

“How do we take MAGTF and move it forward so we actually fully leverage the transformational capabilities of the F-35 and the V-22,” Dunford said. “That’s going to fundamentally change equipment, it’s going to change tactics, it’s going to change our organizational construct.”

The Osprey, which was fielded to the Marine Corps in 2007, has recently been developed as a cornerstone for the Corps’ long-term plan for distributed operations. The Marines’ Expeditionary Force 21 strategy, introduced last year, relies heavily on the aircraft to insert Marines into operational theaters and to carry troops from floating bases offshore. Other recent efforts have highlighted the Osprey’s ability to cover long distances at speed with the help of mid-air refueling.

The F-35, which will eventually be fielded to the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, has been called the most expensive weapons system ever with its $400 billion development cost and a price tag of $98 million to $115 million per plane. Dunford did not elaborate on all the ways the aircraft may transform the capabilities of the MAGTF, but noted the high-tech plane could serve as an information hub or “server in the sky” for troops on the ground below.

The F-35 working group, Dunford said, could take five months or more to develop its recommendations on how best to use the new fighter. The effort will likely outlive Dunford’s tenure as commandant; he has been nominated to succeed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey when Dempsey retires this fall.

“Folks can argue about the F-35, should we have done it, should we not have done it,” Dunford said. “The fact of the matter is, the United States Marine Corps now has the F-35. So I want to make sure the Marine Corps and Navy take full advantage of it.”

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