The US Marine Corps is forming a new fighter jet squadron to fly the military’s newest generation of strike fighter jet, months after lawmakers became concerned that there was a rush to end the aircraft’s testing despite continued technical problems.
Two veteran pilots of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing have already been trained to fly the F-35B, reports The Seattle Times. Because of this, they will be the first members of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121.
The 121 will debut during a ceremony on Tuesday at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. The first next-generation F-35B arrived at the base on Friday and 15 more will arrive over the next year.
The Defense Department has also pumped a half a billion dollars into upgrading the facilities, hangars, and runways at the base in order to make way for the next-generation of fighter jet. The pilots of the new squadron will most likely fly the aircraft by the end of the year.
The Marines are the first to take steps toward putting the F-35B in action. The new plane is set to replace Cold-war era aircraft like the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier. A spokeswoman at the Yuma base said, “It’s a pretty big milestone that a lot of people are looking at and judging. The lessons learned will be shared.”
ABC News notes that Tuesday’s inauguration of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 is coming just months after Senators Carl Levin, the committee chairman, and John McCain, the panel’s top Republican, questioned whether the jet had met all the criteria necessary to leave its probation period. The F-35B was on probation for two-years because of “significant testing problems.”
Levin and McCain wrote that the program “has enjoyed some success over the last few months, after several years of having fallen short.” Despite the praise, they went on to say “more problems with the F-35B’s structure and propulsion, potentially as serious as those that were originally identified a year ago, have been found.” Because of this, they stated the decision to lift probation was “at least premature.”
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. is the developer of the aircraft. The company is making three versions of the F-35 — one each for the Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps. Schedule delays and rising costs have caused the F-35 to be named the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever.
The project is ten years in and has jumped from $233 billion to an estimated $385 billion.The entire program could end up costing $1 trillion in the next 50 years. The plane that the new Marine Corps fighter jet squadron will use is also the most complicated, because it can take off from shorter runways and is able to land vertically.