Marine Corps chief plans to get troubled F-35B fighter plane off probation

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos intends to petition Defense Secretary Robert Gates to waive a two-year probation sentence for his service’s version of the F-35 jet, if the program shows improvement.

Marine Corps brass want to get the F-35B variant “off [probation] sooner rather than later,” Amos told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee March 9.
To make that happen will require the approval of Defense Secretary Robert Gates or his replacement. So Amos plans to compile a set of “metrics” to help the Defense secretary make that decision.

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Gates in January, responding to ongoing technical problems with the Marine Corps’ variant, which is designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings, placed it in a two-year probationary period. If problems are not corrected by early January 2013, Gates said, the next Defense secretary should terminate the variant. 
Amos plans to track F-35B work “for a couple of months” and then “sit with [Navy] Secretary [Raymond] Mabus, sit with the program manager, and sit with Lockheed Martin and see how we’re doing,” the commandant told The Hill.

After that, program and service officials can “decide are there metrics the secretary of defense might look at … when he makes this decision?”

Lawmakers last week pressed Amos and other naval leaders about the F-35’s problems. 
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted the program during a March 8 hearing, saying it “has been, unfortunately, characteristic of [Pentagon] acquisition challenges.”
McCain directed Amos to give lawmakers updates about F-35B developments “every two months” because “we don’t want to be surprised.”

House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) reminded naval leaders the next day that “some around here think buying more F-18s is sufficient.”

Amos plans to act as, essentially, an extra program manager for the F-35B variant, and he is confident the short-takeoff-and-landing variant can be saved.

He has vowed to be “a player-coach” by monitoring the program in real time. He told House defense appropriators last week that he tracks program developments on special computer monitors in his Pentagon office. 
Amos said again last week on Capitol Hill that he will routinely huddle with military and industry program managers about program performance.

“They can’t put a pound on it without my approval,” the commandant said.

Amos inherited the F-35B’s troubles.

In recent years, software problems, design flaws and testing delays have hamstrung F-35 development and delayed its fielding, according to a late 2010 report from the Pentagon’s director of operational testing and evaluation.

For his service, making the F-35B work is critical. It has no next-generation fighter in development. “There is no Plan B,” Amos told the House subcommittee.

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