WASHINGTON D.C. – Firefighters and emergency crews will have a new tool at their disposal in the seemingly never-ending battle against forest and wildfires that frequently plague parts of the western and central United States. On Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service announced it will retire the MAFFS II, a modular platform designed for use with the C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, and replace it with a more advanced MAFFS III platform built specifically for Lockheed Martin’s F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.
Short for Modular Airborne FireFighting System, the highly condensed MAFFS III platform replaces the F-35’s existing internal and external weapons carriage allowing the aircraft to carry up to 10,000 gallons of water or flame retardant liquid. “Essentially what we’ve done is create a rapid-response aircraft capable of blanketing a wide-ranging area in a very short amount of time,” explained David Nguyen, senior project manager for Lockheed’s MAFFS III program.
In addition to its fire-retardant dispersal system, which can distribute approximately 2,700 gallons in about five seconds, the MAFFS III platform is able to deploy up to one hundred and twenty air-burst capsules – similar in design to cluster munitions – that can carpet a specific area, such as a building or house, with flame retardant liquid.
“Three F-35s equipped with the MAFFS III platform can very easily cover at least twice the area as a C-130 in less than a quarter of the time,” Nguyen said, adding that combined production costs for each jet outfitted with the new system amount to just under $174 million.
“When compared with the grave threat wildfires pose to millions of hardworking Americans and their families, taxpayers should find the cost of these lifesaving aircraft quite reasonable,” Senator Cory Gardner (R-Co) told The Washington Post. Senator Gardner was among those in congress who voted on Wednesday to approve funding for the production of 631 state-of-the-art F-35C Joint Strike Fighters configured with the new MAFFS III platform at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $110 billion.
Around eighty of the new aircraft will be sent to Air National Guard and Reserve Air Force bases throughout the United States to be used in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. However, according to Senator Gardner, the vast majority of the next-generation F-35s are to be shipped to select countries including Columbia, Brazil, Morocco, and Thailand, where they are set to replace the inferior MAFFS II platforms currently in use by the ally nations.