(Image: US Navy, public domain)
Good news for the F-35B! US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the short-takeoff-and-landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter out of a probation period imposed more than a year ago by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The stealthy fighter had suffered a number of setbacks leading to a multibillion-dollar restructuring programme designed to decouple its testing from that of its sibling aircraft – the F-35A and F-35C.
Aviation Week reported Friday that sufficient progress had been made to lift the probation. Addressing a small group of government and industry representatives of the Joint Strike Fighter test team aboard USS Wasp, Panetta said:
“We now believe that because of your work the Stovl variant is demonstrating the kind of performance and maturity that is in line with the other two variants of JSF. The Stovl variant has made — I believe and all of us believe — sufficient progress so that as of today I am lifting the Stovl probation.”
(Image: US Air Force, public domain)
When he imposed the probation period, Gates said that if the development programme didn’t turn around within two years he would recommend its termination. And despite improvements, defense officials are expecting a reduction in production numbers of F-35s in the 2013 budget. The US Marine Corps hopes the aircraft will be operational by 2016. Italy is the F-35B’s only international customer after the UK walked away from the STOVL jet.