Commandant huddles with F-35 program managers

Dunford said F-35 program managers cannot add any weight to the Marines’ short-takeoff-and-landing (STOVL) variant without Amos pressing them about taking the same amount of weight off another part of the jet.

The Corps’ F-35 variant was last year placed on two years of probation by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates. New Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has yet to lift that, but Amos has said he is optimistic the probationary period will be lifted early.

A senior Marine Corps official recently told The Hill that the F-35 likely will always be a part of lists of military hardware programs that could be cut. It is the biggest weapons program in Pentagon history.

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The program has plenty of supports and skeptics on Capitol Hill and in Washington.

Sen. John McCain took to the Senate floor this week to call the program a "tragedy." McCain blasted cost overruns and called for prime contractor Lockheed Martin to be held accountable — and made to pay for — additional cost spikes.

But one F-35 proponent says “there's at least one front on which F-35 is excelling.” That's according to Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, also a Lockheed consultant.

“The pace of testing, which was a drag on program progress in previous years, is now running well ahead of the plan," Thompson wrote.