Eglin yet to receive F-35s

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Lockheed Martin says it will shortly begin deliveries of the first F-35s to Eglin Air Force Base, after missing last month’s planned date.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Mike Rein said, “What we’re finding is it’s taking a little bit longer and I’m not going down that path again and putting a month on it. I will tell you very shortly in the scope of a 10-year program, we will be sending both AF-8 and AF-9 out to Eglin”.

AF-8 and AF-9 are the first two F-35s destined for Eglin. They have completed their test flights and are in their final review to be accepted by the Department of Defence. AF-8 conducted its first flight on May 6 and AF-9 a week later.

In early June, Lockheed Martin said it would deliver its first F-35s to Eglin within days, and that the base would receive its first aircraft before the end of the month.

Rein said that six aircraft would be delivered by the end of the fiscal year, which ends on the last day of September. Eglin Air Force Base will receive most of the 59 F-35s on order within the next three years.
“While we’ll still be delivering aircraft to other bases, Eglin will be the primary focus for the coming years,” Rein said.

Eglin was originally scheduled to receive its first F-35 in November last year, but deliveries was delayed due to technical problems and development delays.
“We’re just looking forward to getting them down there,” Rein said. “It’s going to be exciting once they’re down there and we know there’s a lot of anticipation for them. Nobody wants (Eglin) to get them more than the Lockheed Martin team.”

Two F-35s are awaiting delivery, while the other four destined for Eglin are in various stages of development and some are still on the production line.

The F-35 project, the Pentagon’s costliest arms purchase ever, has been faced with numerous delays and technical problems. Last month Lockheed’s chief executive, Robert Stevens, said his company was confident that it could resolve development challenges facing the F-35.
“We know that we have challenges in our development program,” Stevens, said. “But we’re confident that we know how to fix the challenges that we have.” He said that the radar-evading F-35’s performance characteristics are “very solid and very good”.

Eglin will be an important base for the F-35 as it will be the primary training centre for F-35 crew and maintenance personnel. In 2009, the Air Force redesignated Eglin’s 33rd Fighter Wing as a training unit and began converting the wing’s facilities into a training centre, the Pensacola News Journal notes.

Lockheed Martin expects the F-35, due to be the backbone of U.S. air combat power for decades to come, to account for more than 20 percent of its global sales once full production kicks in, at a date still to be determined.

But the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, has said the program has not fully shown that the aircraft design is stable or that manufacturing processes are mature and that the system is reliable.

Total development funding is now estimated at US$56.4 billion to wrap up in 2018, a 26 percent cost increase and a five-year schedule slip from the program’s current baseline, according to GAO.

Three F-35 models are being built for the US Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and eight allied countries under a program most recently projected to total some US$382 billion over the coming two decades, for 2 443 aircraft.

President Barack Obama has asked Congress for US$9.7 billion in fiscal year 2012, which starts on October 1, for continued system development, test and purchase of 32 early production F-35s.