US defence sec says happy with F-35 jet progress


The United States is happy with the overall state of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter program, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday after the Pentagon has twice overhauled the program due to technical and cost worries.

The fifth generation stealth jet is highly complex and has run into delays and massive cost overruns. Eight countries are partnering with the United States to develop the F-35 at a total cost of $382 billion.

Washington has committed to ultimately buying around 2,300 to 2,400 of the planes, which come in three models, reuters reports.
“I’m fairly confident that we are making good progress,” Gates told a news conference after talks with Canadian counterpart Peter MacKay.

He said the US Air Force and Navy versions of the plane “are actually progressing quite well … there don’t seem to be any significant technical challenges so I have a lot of confidence in this program”.

Gates said earlier this month that the US Marine Corps variant of the plane, which offers short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities, had been been put on a two-year “probation” to sort out technical challenges.

At that time he also announced what he said was a more realistic production and repricing schedule.
“There are no cost increases in the program for this year and in fact we have negotiated a contract for the next major buy that represents a decrease in cost and we are going to keep working on this,” he said on Thursday.