- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2018

An F-35B fighter jet crashed near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina late Friday morning, military officials said, just days after the cutting-edge aircraft flew its first combat mission in Afghanistan.

“At approximately 11:45, a 2D Marine Aircraft Wing F-35B impacted near the Broad River in Beaufort County. The pilot safely ejected and is being examined by medical personnel,” Marine Corps officials said in a statement. “To ensure the safety of the general public, as well as officials securing the site, all civilians should remain clear. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”

The incident, which is under investigation, comes during the same week the aircraft was first used in a combat zone.

F-35B fighters with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 flew their first combat missions in Afghanistan this week, military officials said Thursday, launching air strikes in support of “ground clearance operations.”

The cutting-edge plane — which has drawn the ire of President Trump for its high price tag and multiple delays in rolling it out — is designed to take off and land vertically on Navy ships and Marine Corps bases, and is widely seen as a major step forward for military aviation.

Earlier Friday, top Pentagon contractor Lockheed Martin announced significant cost reductions for the aircraft. The F-35B, one of three F-35 models, saw its price tag lowered by 5.7 percent to $115.5 million per plane, Lockheed and Pentagon officials said in a statement.

“Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program,” said Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 program executive officer at the Pentagon. “We are delivering on our commitment to get the best price for taxpayers and warfighters. This agreement for the next lot of F-35s represents a fair deal for the U.S. government, our international partnership and industry. We remain focused on aggressively reducing F-35 cost and delivering best value.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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