The first Lockheed Martin production model F-35C carrier variant, known as CF-6, takes off on its first sortie Feb. 14. (Lockheed Martin)
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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert continued to strongly support the F-35 Lightning II during talks at the at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space symposium outside Washington, D.C.
“I need a 5th generation strike fighter and this provides it,” Greenert said.
He said he believes the carrier-capable F-35C variant will meet the Navy's needs and he isn't looking at alternative aircraft to take its place.
His statement Monday was the most clear and unequivocal reassurance of the Navy's interest in Lockheed Martin's aircraft, which has grown both in cost and development time.
The Navy's version came under additional scrutiny after it was determined that the tailhook used in a carrier landing doesn't always catch the arresting wire, a glitch that wouldn't let it go to sea. Lockheed Martin is developing a fix to the tailhook problem.
Speculation about the Navy's commitment to the F-35 arose in July after Greenert penned an article for U.S. Naval Institute's magazine Proceedings that questioned the long-term need for stealth aircraft — a key feature of the F-35 variants — while emphasizing the need for new weapons payloads, unmanned systems and sensors. He didn't mention the 5th generation aircraft by name, but his analysis of the waning utility of stealth and praise for other capabilities raised doubts about his interest in the F-35.
Gen. Jim Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that aircraft — including ones that are well-respected today — often had problems in development but were refined into reliable and capable machines.
The Marine Corps is expected to purchase 80 F-35Cs and form five strike fighters squadrons that will operate from aircraft carriers — currently the Marines have three strike fighter squadrons.