Lockheed Martin confident F-35 will hit deployment deadlines

Hitting those deadlines over the next five years for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the armed services is the company's "top priority," according to Lockheed spokeswoman Laura Siebert. 

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Lockheed is the prime contractor for all U.S. and international versions of the F-35. 

"We appreciate the confidence in the F-35 program expressed by the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy," in their time lines for initial fielding of the F-35, Siebert said in a statement Friday. 

Service leaders sent those proposed deployment deadlines to lawmakers in June, made public this week. 

The information sent to Capitol Hill was part of a reporting requirement on the F-35 included in last year's Defense Authorization Act. 

The Marine Corps will be the first service to get their version of the F-35, with service leaders expecting the jet to be ready for duty no later than December 2015, according to the congressional report. 

The Air Force will be next up, with the air service receiving their first combat-ready F-35s a year after the Marines, in 2016. 

Finally, the aircraft carrier version of the F-35 will arrive on the decks on Navy ships three years later, in February 2019, according to service estimates. 

The first F-35s to enter into the U.S. arsenal, the Marine Corps's B variant, has experienced the most difficulty in the F-35 testing and development phase. 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the program's Marine Corps variant, known as the F-35B, on “probation” and threatened to cancel it unless its cost and schedule problems were fixed within two years.

Late last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially took the Marine Corps plane off probation. Recent reports, however, claim the JSF, considered the most expensive acquisition program in Pentagon history, is currently $150 billion over budget, based on initial cost estimates. 

Most recently, the Pentagon grounded the oft-troubled Marine Corps version of the F-35 in January after key components on the exhaust system on the fighter's single jet engine failed during a test flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. 

The plane was put back on flight status after program officials from DOD, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, who make the F-35 engine, cleared the airplane for duty.