(Adds details on testing program, byline)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON May 18 Six U.S. F-35B fighter jets
built by Lockheed Martin Corp landed on the USS Wasp
amphibious warship on Monday for two weeks of operational
testing required before the Marine Corps can declare a first
squadron of 10 F-35s ready for combat use in July, according to
a U.S. defense official.
The testing, taking place off the coast of Virginia, will
involve the six F-35 B-model jets, the highest number of F-35s
ever used on a Navy warship to date, as well as Marine Corps
pilots, maintenance personnel, and logistics experts, said the
source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The tests will check the ability of the stealthy jets to
integrate into flight and deck operations on board the ship.
They will include operations and weapons loading at day and
night, the jets' ability to coordinate digitally with an
on-board logistics system call ALIS, and how well the crew can
deal with scheduled and unexpected repairs at sea.
The testing marks a milestone for the $391 billion F-35
Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program.
U.S. officials say the program has turned the corner after years
of cost overruns and schedule delays.
Lockheed on Monday said it is working to resolve "relatively
minor" issues with a portable version of the F-35 fighter jet's
automated logistics system, but the problems should not impede
the Marine Corp milestone this summer.
Lockheed is racing to complete a smaller, lighter version of
the F-35's complex Autonomic Logistics Information System
(ALIS), ahead of July, when the Marine Corps plans to declare it
has an initial operational capability (IOC) of F-35s.
The Marine Corps must also complete certain modifications of
the 10 jets that will make up the initial squadron.
The Pentagon's F-35 office said work on one of the jets had
been completed, and two more would be finished this week. The
seven remaining jets would be modified by the end of June, the
Jeff Streznetcky, the Lockheed executive in charge of the
F-35's ALIS logistics system, on Monday told Reuters the larger,
earlier version of ALIS was installed on the U.S. ship ahead of
the test and was already being used to maintain the jets that
will carry out the tests.
He said the system was performing "very, very well" thus
far, and he expected a "seamless transition" once the jets
arrived on board from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Bernard