Stackley: Marines Set to Standup New F-35B Squadron in June

USNI News // March 24, 2016

The Navy’s top acquisition official told a key congressional panel Wednesday that “Marines absolutely love this aircraft” and expect to be fielding a new squadron of F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters in June.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said the aircraft “was designed and built for the future, for high-end threat.”

As to the Marine squadron, it wasn’t immediately clear if Stackley was including the existing, non-deployable F-35B training squadron in his tally of three squadrons. The Marines said late last year they planned to field their third operational squadron sometime in 2018.

He added it was really a “false choice” to consider upgrading legacy aircraft instead of replacing them with the fifth-generation fighter that will be used by the Navy and Air Force, as well as the Marines.

The cost of keeping legacy aircraft flying “is hurting us today” and in some cases productions lines have slowed or closed and parts are not available.
Stackley did add the sea service will be flying a mixed fleet of fighters through the mid-2030s.

All the witnesses before the subcommittee said in various ways that the improvements in the past year “clearly reflect a program that is maturing” in holding down costs and improving repair, maintenance and availability. Its production rate in increasing through a combination of U.S. military builds, foreign military sales and delivery to allies who were production partners.

Like others, Stackley said the F-35 “is significantly more complex than the systems they are replacing” and production costs are higher than originally estimated in 2002.

The aircraft is “replacing or complementing a number of aircraft growing older,” Michael Sullivan, from the General Accountability Office, said. Its three variants are more versatile than the fourth-generation fighter, he added.

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