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The Marine Corps F-35B short-take off vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter will begin sea trials next week, the service's top aviation officer said.
"They start on 3rd October, and should last only two weeks," said Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, the Marine's deputy commandant for aviation. "But we have the USS Wasp for six weeks in case there are some anomalies."
Robling expressed confidence that the sea trials would go well.
According to Lockheed Martin F-35 program manager, Tom Burbage, both the Lightning II aircraft and the amphibious assault ship Wasp have been instrumented for the trials.
Successful sea trials would be a coup for the Marines and the F-35B program, which then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates placed on http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=5394171">two-year probation last year.
Demonstrating the F-35B on the Wasp is crucial to the program's success, said analyst Richard Aboulafia at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va.
"It certainly shows progress," Aboulafia said.
Moreover, it will also help the service make the case for the STOVL aircraft in the forthcoming Pentagon budget battles, he said.
"That gives the Marines ammunition to get this B-model in the clear," Aboulafia said. "When something is on probation, it becomes an easy target."
If all goes well, F-35B should be arriving at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in November, Robling said.
"All is on track," he said.