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McCain welcomes Marine pilots who will fly new F-35B fighter

SAN DIEGO — Sen. John McCain on Tuesday welcomed the Marine Corps’ first squadron of pilots who are being called upon to fly the branch’s version of the next-generation F-35 fighter jet out of its long and troubled testing phase.

Mr. McCain spoke at a ceremony to inaugurate Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at its base in Yuma, Ariz., saying he was encouraged by the recent progress of the supersonic jet program.

The Arizona Republican’s comments come months after he raised concerns that the Pentagon was prematurely ending the probation period for the Marine Corps’ F-35B aircraft, which has had technical problems in its development.

Mr. McCain told the crowd Tuesday that much work still needs to be done before the aircraft can be sent into combat. The F-35B would replace Cold War-era aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier.

“With today’s arrival of Joint Strike Fighters to Yuma, I am — after many years of frustration and setbacks — encouraged that the overall program is moving in the right direction,” Mr. McCain said.

He said that after major restructuring efforts over the past two years, “the program is finally set up to produce more achievable and predictable outcomes.”

The F-35B had been on a two-year probation because of “significant testing problems.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports