U.S. changes plans for F-35 Marine Corps variant

The Department of Defense put the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the composites-intensive F-35 on a two-year probation following problems discovered during testing. The number of planes to be bought overall was also reduced.

Reuters and other news organizations reported on Jan. 6 that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has overhauled the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 Lightning II fighter program for the second time in a year. The DoD said it would buy 41 Boeing Co F/A-18 warplanes over the next three years to offset slower production of the F-35 plane.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a further restructuring of the radar-evading F-35 as part of a broad cost-reduction plan, saying it would result in net savings of about $4 billion over the next five years.

The Pentagon's biggest arms program, the new fighter is being developed with eight international partner countries at total cost of $382 billion, but the program has run into schedule delays and cost overruns in recent years.

Gates said work on the Air Force and Navy versions of the plane was moving along satisfactorily, but that the Marine Corps variant of the plane, which offers short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities, was put on a two-year "probation," and could be canceled if Lockheed was unable to fix significant test problems.

"If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled," Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

A Pentagon document on the changes called for Lockheed to build 325 F-35s through fiscal 2016, instead of the 449 that were planned, and said cost-cutting efforts were still needed.

Development of the new fighter was now slated for completion in early 2016 instead of mid-2015 under the previous restructuring, according to the Pentagon document. The Pentagon estimates that it must still spend $13.8 billion to finish the F-35's development, on top of $37 billion spent to date.

Information: Click here for original Reuters report.