Was the Navy?s F-111 Really That Bad?

The controversy swirling around the F-35 joint strike fighter echoes previous battles fought over aircraft tasked with serving more than one master. Perhaps the central question in today?s debate is whether a single airplane designed to perform many missions adequately is a better and truly more affordable choice than several airplanes, each designed to perform a single mission flawlessly. In 1968, the Navy had an unequivocal answer: No. But were they right?

In the early 1960s both the Navy and the Air Force were shopping for new combat aircraft. The Navy needed a carrier-based interceptor capable of engaging Soviet bombers hundreds of miles away, before they could launch long-range anti-ship missiles; the Air Force required a supersonic, ground-hugging penetrator that could duck in under enemy radar and dodge surface-to-air missiles.