The first delivery of F-35s was expected this month at Eglin Air Force Base, where pilot and support training squadrons were formed for Air Force, Navy and Marines in April 2010. But the first two aircraft are now destined for Edwards Air Force Base in April 2011.
Joint Strike Fighter program officials told the Northwest Florida Daily News that Lockheed Martin needs additional time to make aircraft modifications to support testing.
“While at Edwards, the two aircraft (AF-6/AF-7) will accrue flight hours and supplement Block 1.0 mission avionics flight test,” spokesman Joe DellVedova said in an e-mail to the Daily News, a sister publication of the Sun Journal.
“We anticipate training at Eglin to begin late summer 2011 after the completion of independent operational assessment of the training syllabus and corresponding support system,” he said.
A spokesman for the training squadron said the delay will not slow training, which is initially done on simulators anyway.
It does, however, give more credence to continued rumblings that difficulties with the plane’s development are making its entry into the military’s aircraft arsenal and its cost unpredictable.
The Marine Corps recently announced its final draft choice for basing the vertical lift version of the Joint Strike Fighter would put eight squadrons, probably 128 F-35Bs and about 1,200 personnel, at Cherry Point air station. Marine aircraft training squadrons and three operational squadrons would go to Beaufort, S.C.
A decision is expected in December and North Carolina’s politicians in Washington, Raleigh, and Craven County are lobbying for the other three operational squadrons for Cherry Point. Many fear the aircraft’s cost and the country’s economic difficulties will cut the number of planes bought and deal Cherry Point out of its share.
Delays officially announced in March 2010 put full production off until November 2015 and costs in March up by more than 25 percent. A Pentagon projection last week adds another 10 percent increase.
But Sen. Kay Hagan said last week, “This has been in the plans for quite awhile. I can’t imagine that we will not be able to fund this program.”
And Bloomberg Business News reported Nov. 5 that a Pentagon report on the aircraft’s development showed that all three variants of the plane are meeting key performance requirements.
Bloomberg also reported that fourth production contract recently signed by the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin shows the actual cost of building the F-35 to be about 25 percent below the cost now being projected by the Pentagon.