WASHINGTON, May 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine Corps is “tracking very well” toward declaring a squadron of 10 F-35 jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp ready for initial combat use by July 15, Lieutenant General Jon Davis, the top general in charge of Marine Corps aviation, said on Tuesday.
In a step toward that goal, the Marine Corps will use an MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft to transport part of the engine of the F-35 fighter jet to the USS Wasp amphibious ship during two weeks of testing that began Monday, Davis said.
“Unless something really weird happens, I think we’ll be fine,” he told reporters. He said he would not recommend the move until after a two-week operational readiness inspection showed the squadron was ready.
Six U.S. F-35B fighter jets landed on the USS Wasp on Monday, a milestone for the $391 billion F-35 fighter jet program as it nears the July declaration of “initial operational capability,” or IOC. [ID:nL1N0Y92BV}
Davis said he would observe the testing during a trip to the USS Wasp, operating off the coast of Virginia, on Wednesday.
He will determine how easily the jets can be maneuvered around the flight deck and how well they can be repaired at sea, including possible work on the jet’s F135 engine, built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
The jet engine can be broken down into five parts for transport in protective cases that can be flown on an MV-22 Osprey and swapped out in case they were needed for repairs.
Davis said one of the modules would be flown to the ship to assess the difficulty of completing engine repair at sea. He said no actual swapout was planned unless necessary.
The testing will also assess the automated logistics system called ALIS. Davis said the system was performing “pretty well” and allowed jets to be serviced and returned to the flight line in about two hours, generally in line with other aircraft.
A new portable version of the ALIS system was also making progress, he said, but it would not include the engine until December after more software changes. For now, he said, technicians needed separate laptops to service the engines.
Lockheed on Monday said it was working to resolve “relatively minor” issues with the portable version of ALIS, but the problems should not impede the Marine Corps’ ability to declare the jets ready for combat this summer. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills)