Two top-ranking members of the Senate Armed Service Committee are questioning U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to remove U.S. Marines’ F-35B Joint Strike Fighter from “probation.”
In a letter, Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, the two senior member of the committee, also voiced their frustration that they learned of Panetta’s decision through the press.
The F-35B variant had been placed on “probation” for falling behind on tests and because of a number of technical glitches more than a year ago by the-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Last month, Panetta announced at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., that he was satisfied with the jet’s progress and that he was removing the jet from probation. The Marine version of the jet is the most technically challenging variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.
“When Secretary Gates originally decided to put the F-35B on probation, he intended his decision to invoke specific courses of action by Lockheed Martin and the program management office to help ensure that the F-35B program established technical maturity and design stability in several key areas. Have these actions been taken?” the two wrote. “If not, your decision may have foregone a valuable opportunity to continue driving desired improvements through the still-nascent, enormously challenging program to develop the F-35B.”
The two Senators said that they wanted specific criteria to remove the jet from probation rather than some vague notion of progress. “In the intervening time since probation was imposed, 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,” the two Senators wrote. “This is salient where the F-35B has completed only 20% of its developmental test plan to date. Your decision, therefore, appears at least premature.”
The senators included a list of question they would like answered about the progress of the F-35B.