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US Navy, Air Force may field F-35s later than 2016

Thu, 21st Apr 2011 17:48

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force and Navy may not be ab
le to field the new Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet until after 2016, the Pentagon official who runs the program said on Thursday.

Vice Admiral David Venlet told reporters that the fighter jet was making progress on testing and production after a major restructuring earlier this year that put it on a more realistic path.

But he said the program would be judged on its performance and that no weapons program should 'feel that it's insulated or above being looked at.'

Venlet said operational testing of the radar-evading fighter would not be completed until 2016, which meant the Air Force and Navy might not be able to declare 'initial operating capability' that year. 'Realistically, I don't see it being in 2016 for the Air Force or the Navy,' Venlet said.

Venlet said Lockheed earned just $7 million of $35 million in available award fees on the F-35 program in 2010, and the remaining $28 million would not rolled forward to this year.

He said the Pentagon and the company would renegotiate the development contract for the new fighter jet this summer after this year's restructuring, which would map out the milestones Lockheed needs to hit to earn fees on the F-35 development program in coming years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced last year that he would withhold $614 million in award fees until Lockheed improved its performance on the Pentagon's biggest weapons program, a $382 billion undertaking to build three different variants of a new fifth-generation fighter for the U.S. military and eight international partners.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn) Keywords: LOCKHEED FIGHTER

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