By Martin Matishak - 08/07/14 11:35 AM EDT
Lockheed Martin’s head of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program rejected on Thursday recent criticism of the costly, troubled project after it failed to make its air show debut.
In a brief, sharply-worded letter to The New York Times, Lorraine Martin chided the newspaper over an editorial that argued Defense Department officials should reassess the nearly $400 billion program and possibly explore buying more F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter jets.
Lockheed Martin manufactures the F-35, while Pratt & Whitney builds its engines.
The latest problem for the aircraft came on June 23, when a fire erupted aboard a jet as it prepared to take off from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, prompting the Pentagon to ground all 97 existing planes.
The Defense Department has since lifted some of the flight restrictions but decided to cancel the international debut of the Marine Corps variant of the F-35 at the Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire, England.
Martin wrote that the Marines are set to declare initial operating capability, meaning the aircraft is ready to be deployed, in 2015, and that the Air Force would follow suit in 2016.
This was “progress recognized in many of the reports" the Times cited in its editorial critiquing the aircraft, she said.
Martin highlighted that 65 percent of flight testing has been completed, and that the program is on track to finish development by 2017.
In addition, the military’s F-35 fleet has flown more than 18,000 hours, while 107 aircraft have been delivered, and aircraft’s price tag had dropped by 55 percent, she added.
The F-35 “will deliver decisive advantages over any potential adversary for decades to come,” Martin concluded.
At almost $400 billion, the F-35 is the most expensive weapon project in U.S. history. Already seven years behind schedule, its costs have ballooned by roughly 70 percent, even after the U.S. reduced the number of planes it intends to purchase by more than 400, to roughly 2,400.