Breaking news: Navy public affairs office says Panetta's Pax River visit is now postponed.
As the defense world tries to figure out how the Pentagon and military forces can solve all the problems with the F-35 program and live within the confines boundaries of looming budget cuts, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is likely to hear a hard sales pitch for the airplane Friday.
Panetta is scheduled to visit Naval Air Station Patuxent River (Md.) on Friday for briefings on the F-35 program from the team of military and civilian personnel responsible for testing the two F-35 variants slated for the Marines and Navy, the F-35B and C-models.
Panetta, who will be accompanied by Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic Whip, will also address the test team and take questions, the Navy's press office said in a release today.
Outgoing SecDef Robert Gates, a little irritated at continuous cost creep and delays, had become highly unhappy with the F-35 program in his final two years in office and last January announced the Marines version, the F-35B short-takeoff and vertical-landing version was on two-year probation until it could be shown that all of the known reliability and performance problems could afforably be addressed.
Panetta has had little to say about the program since arriving at the Pentagon but has strongly argued the defense budget should not be whacked further, as mandated by the sequestration measures that would go into effect in January 2013. Unless Congress alters the budget requirements, most analysts say the Pentagon will have little choice to chop new weapons to To meet those budget requirements
In the meantime, with some successful shipboard trials completed in October, the Marines leadership is singing the praises of the F-35 and stating they believe probation should and will be listed soon.
In fact, the Marines are spending money now at primary bases to build new landing pads that can take the down-blast and heat from the F-35. That's right, new landing pads for an airplane they say will be deployable and able to operate for long periods of time from unimproved bases in the hinterlands.