MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT – Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is "confident" concerns about the safety of ejections for lightweight pilots from the F-35 joint strike fighter will be resolved, he said Thursday.

The issue, first reported by Defense News in October, revolves around concerns that lightweight pilots could be severely injured or killed during a low-speed ejection from the F-35, leading to a restriction on pilots under 136 pounds from flying the fifth-generation jet.

The Pentagon has pledged to have a solution, revolving around a lighter helmet, with officials saying they hope to have the issue resolved by November.

"That's going to be fixed," Work said when asked about the issue. "I haven't been told anything [otherwise] – I'm confident. Yup, it will be fixed."

Work expressed his belief during a visit here to learn more about the F-35B variant, accompanied by UK defense procurement head Philip Dunne. While there, the two met with pilots and maintainers from both nations and were briefed on the capabilities of the fighter.

There are currently 12 F-35B models at Beaufort, as well as one UK model. The base, which is a training home for both nations F-35B pilots, expects to have 20 planes by the end of the year, with the number of UK owned fighters increasing.

Work discussed interoperability with his tour guides, and then told reporters that he feels "every question I've asked says we're totally interoperable."

"British maintainers take care of Marine jets, Marine maintainers take care of British jets. Pilots fly each other's planes. So we're about as interoperable as you can imagine," the deputy said.

"This is a wondrous machine, just unbelievable technology, but the reason why it's so wondrous is because of all the people we met," Work said. "It's a heck of a jet, that's for sure."

Email: aMehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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