Marine Corps chief closely watching F-35

Marine Corps Commandant James Amos on Friday said he has adopted the role of "player-coach" to get his service's version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on track.

Gen. Amos, who became the Corps's top officer last October, told reporters he is actively engaged in the program and gets daily updates. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has imposed a two-year probation on the Corps's struggling variant of the multiservice stealth fighter.

"My goal is, there will be no surprises," said Amos, who meets regularly with senior program officials, as well as the plane's maker, Lockheed Martin.

The general said he is "very comfortable" with the two-year probation, at the end of which the Defense Department will decide whether to continue the Marine Corps's short takeoff-vertical landing version of the fighter. But, he added, he wants to "get off the probation as soon as we can."

The Marines' F-35, which will replace older fighters in the service's inventory, has experienced significant testing problems that could force a redesign of the aircraft's structure and propulsion. Gates has raised concerns that those changes could add more weight to the plane and increase its costs.

"If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost, and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled," Gates said when he first announced the probationary period on Jan. 6.

The Air Force and Navy are also buying versions of the fighter, as are several allies. The entire program has had cost and schedule problems that last year prompted Gates to fire the program manager and withhold some payments to Lockheed Martin. But Gates now believes that Lockheed Martin and program officials have made satisfactory progress on the other variants.

Amos said the new program chief, Vice Adm. David Venlet, is the "right guy in charge of this program." He added that the Defense Department is placing enough emphasis on oversight.

During his own reviews of the program, Amos said he specifically looks at weight issues, as well as how many test flights have been flown and how those aircraft have fared during the tests.

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