- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The commandant of the Marine Corps on Wednesday said that the much-maligned Joint Strike Fighter Program will play an essential role in preserving America’s military force in the future.

Gen. James F. Amos told a military contractor conference on Wednesday that cancellation of the program as several budget hawks advocate would devastate America’s fighter fleet within 15 years.

“Our nation will have 50 percent less ability to do whatever our bidding is because the joint strike fighter program was canceled,” Gen. Amos said. “There is nothing that is going to be a replacement besides the Joint Strike Fighter.”

The general said that while the program had gone through many technical and financing difficulties since its beginning in 1993, most have been resolved. He said that Lockheed Martin, the company behind the program, has installed equipment that corrected all engineering issues with the test planes currently being used by the Marine Corps.

“The airplane and the program are both doing very well,” he said.

The Joint Strike Fighter Program, designed to create an aircraft that could be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, has been plagued with design flaws and cost overruns. The Pentagon is still planning to purchase 2,443 of the fighters, designated as the F-35, but previous Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that the order might be cut in early July.

Of particular difficulty for Lockheed Martin is the Marine Corps‘ request for planes that can land vertically like helicopters and take off on short runways. They require a different thrust system than the other planes.

With the program reaching its 18th year, Mr. Gates gave Lockheed Martin only two more years to mechanical problems and complete testing. If the model cannot solve its flaws by 2013, the Marine portion of the program will be canceled.

Gen. Amos said that he is confident that the plane will meet the deadline He said 30 of the aircraft have already been delivered and that the test flights have been going well.

In March, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there is no “Plan B” for the Marine Corps in replacing the AV-8B Harrier, which has been in use since the 1980s.

The general said that the Marine Corps‘ mission “fits very well” with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s vision of the Pentagon. He and said keeping the defense budget down is a priority to the branch, despite his support for the Joint Strike Fighter program.



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