But the U.S. already has more Reapers than it needs, and the added value of being able to cover remote locations from a carrier station is dubious. Putting a carrier strike group to work hunting terrorists is like sending a pack of Rottweilers to catch mice. A cat will do, and costs less to feed.
That logic motivates people in the Navy, and elsewhere in the Pentagon, who want a high-end Uclass. Their hand has been strengthened in public this year by the success of the X-47B carrier trials, and in secret by some interesting results from design studies. They should win this one.
The place to find the money for that is in the F-35 program (AW&ST Aug. 19, p. 19). Since the summer, the case for buying 340 F-35Bs for the Marines has been weakened by the service's admission that only 10% of operations will use the heavy, expensive short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing kit. What that implies is that the F-35B will only do Stovl when it is part of small detachments on amphibious-warfare ships; 100 F-35Bs would be more than enough for that.
So what replaces the majority, expeditionary land-based piece of Marine air, now equipped with aging Hornets? The Marines are all about close air support (CAS). They want to operate from runways that are shorter and rougher than most fighters need. Wouldn't it be great if someone had a force of around 200 dedicated CAS aircraft they were trying to divest?
They do and they are. They're called A-10s (AW&ST Dec. 9, p. 15) and transferring them to the Marines would do more than create a durable, focused force to provide CAS, not just for the Marines but for the Army and special operations forces. It would give the Navy's army's air force a mission.