A high ranking Marine Corps aviation officer believes an upcoming study comparing the F-35C and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will back the Joint Strike Fighter.

“My sense is it will probably end up validating the imperative to have fifth generation aircraft out there in the battles,” Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis told reporters Wednesday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington. “I’m highly confident we’re on the right track (with F-35).”

A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet.  Photo: Boeing.
A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo: Boeing.

Defense Secretary James Mattis last week called for two F-35 reviews: one to determine opportunities to significantly reduce the cost of the program while meeting requirements. Another is a parallel review to compare the Navy’s F-35C carrier variant and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet operational capabilities. Mattis also wants the review to assess the extent that Super Hornet improvements can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative (Defense Daily, Jan. 27). The F-35 is considered a fifth-generation aircraft while the Super Hornet is considered a fourth generation aircraft.

Davis said if the Marine Corps only had Super Hornets, there would be certain scenarios it wouldn’t be able to perform. He also said there would be a higher attrition of legacy fourth generation aircraft than if fifth generation aircraft were available. Davis warned that the Marine Corps is lacking the ability to fight the high end fight as his Super Hornets are rapidly coming out of relevancy while his AV-8B Harriers are, as well. The F-35, he said, is the answer.

Despite making his feelings known about the issue, Davis said the study needs to be a fair assessment.

“Let the study be pure and come up with its answer,” he said.

The F-35 is developed by Lockheed Martin [LMT] while the Super Hornet is developed by Boeing [BA].