Lockheed Martin has two years to fix problems with the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, or it will be cancelled, according to the Department of Defense. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the second restructuring of the F-35 program within a year, noting that although development of the F-35A and F-35C versions is proceeding satisfactorily, there are significant testing problems with the F-35B.
The testing issues with the F-35B may lead to a redesign of the aircraft’s structure and propulsion, changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either, he said. The number of F-35s to be procured in Fiscal Year 2012 will be held at the same level as FY2011–32 aircraft, Gates added. Although four F-35Bs are in flight test at NAS Patuxent River, vertical transitions were suspended last September after only 10 had been accomplished. Lockheed Martin reported problems with the auxiliary inlet door hinge but has not suggested they were of major significance. Last October the British Ministry of Defence dropped the F-35B version in favor of the F-35C.