U.S. Navy and Marine Corps leaders yesterday signed an agreement by which the Corps will join the Navy in buying the F-35 joint strike fighter
variant designed for aircraft carriers, service leaders announced on Monday, March 14. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos signed a memorandum of agreement on Monday on the purchase of F/A-18E/F and F-35B/C fighter jets they say will improve air capabilities for both services.
Under the agreement, the two services will buy 680 F-35s. The Navy will buy 260 of the F-35C carrier variant, and the Marine Corps will buy 80 of the F-35Cs, along with 340 of the F-35Bs, a short-take off, vertical-landing variant. The Corps will assign five of its air squadrons to flying the F-35Cs in the Navy’s carrier air wing, the agreement says.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced in January that he was placing the F-35B on the equivalent of two years probation due to testing problems with the STOVL aircraft.
Monday’s agreement demonstrates the commitment of Gates, Mabus and Roughead to the purchase of the F-35B, Thomas E. Laux, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for air programs, said during a press briefing. "These quantities match the fiscal 2012 budget request," he said.
The F-35Cs will be assigned to the Navy’s aircraft carriers, while the "B" variants are assigned to L-class ships, Laux said. "Our priority is to do testing of the F-35Cs on the carrier," he said. "We will learn a lot about the F-35Bs on the L ships" to determine if the STOVLs may be used on carriers.
The agreement reflects the "enduring partnership" of Navy and Marine Corps aviation, Laux said. Training for the aircraft will be "completely integrated," and there will be only one pipeline, he said.
The combination of F-35B and C variants, along with the F-18s, will improve the services’ advance air capabilities, service officials said.