The X-32 was almost the top fighter for the U.S. military.
Chosen in 2001, the F-35 went on to become the largest Pentagon procurement project of all time, and one of the most beset by trouble. The X-32 escaped all of the most significant challenges to the F-35. The X-32 never faced decades of testing and redesign; it never saw massive cost overruns; it was never subjected to an endless series of articles about how it couldn’t out-dogfight an F-16A. Nostalgia for what might have been is common in aircraft competitions, and it’s impossible to say whether the X-32 would have run into the same difficulties of the F-35. Given the complex nature of advanced fighter projects, the answer is almost certainly “yes.”
The Department of Defense (DoD) didn’t have to opt for the F-35. In the 1990s, both Boeing and Lockheed Martin bid for the next big fighter contract, a plane that would serve in each of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as grace the air forces of many US allies. Boeing served up the X-32; Lockheed the X-35.
The Pentagon chose the F-35. Given the struggles of the last decade with the Joint Strike Fighter, it’s impossible not to wonder about what might have been; what if DoD had gone with Boeing’s X-32 instead, or with some combination of the two aircraft?
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