UPDATE 2-Britain, US hail F-35 fighter as tightening ties

Thu Jul 19, 2012 2:29am IST

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* Britain to get first F-35 to go to a U.S. partner
    * Pentagon has delayed production, revamped program 3 times
    * Lockheed Martin program said to have made "considerable
strides"


    By Jim Wolf
    July 18 (Reuters) - Britain and the United States hailed
Wednesday their work on Lockheed Martin Corp 's F-35
Joint Strike Fighter as tightening military ties, a day before
Britain receives the jet's first international delivery.  
    Britain is to formally accept an F-35 test model at
Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas, production plant on Thursday. The
Pentagon seized the occasion to voice strong support for the
plane, which is over budget, behind schedule and a potential
target for cuts by lawmakers.
    The delivery reflects "considerable strides" in the program,
particularly in the past year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta told a Pentagon press conference alongside Philip
Hammond, his British counterpart. 
    "The F-35 represents, I believe, the future of tactical
aviation for both of our armed services" and would help ensure 
"our dominance of the skies for years to come," he said.
    Hammond, Britain's secretary of state for defense, cited
joint work on the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing model --
of which Britain plans to buy 48 -- as one of the "crucial
keystones" of what he called Britain's most important defense
relationship.
    The radar-evading, multirole F-35 is the Pentagon's
costliest arms purchase, expected to top $396 billion for 2,443
aircraft in three models through the mid-2030s. The aircraft is
being built for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps along
with Britain and the seven other co-development partners -
Italy, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and the
Netherlands.
    Israel and Japan also are buying the F-35, designed to
replace a range of fighter, strike and ground-attack aircraft,
including Lockheed's multirole F-16, the world's most widely
used fighter.
    The Defense Department this year postponed production of 179
F-35s until after 2017, stretching development and testing in an
effort to curb costly retrofits. The project's latest
restructuring, the third such major revamp, added 33 months and
$7.9 billion to the development plan.
    "Our continued commitment to this program will also further
solidify the U.S.-U.K. alliance," Panetta said. 
    He handed over a small-scale model, joshing that it was a
cheaper version of the one for which Hammond is to pick up the
keys in Texas.
    Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales, is
developing the F-35 with Northrop Grumman Corp and
Britain's BAE Systems PLC. Britain initially invested
$2 billion in the F-35's development, the most of any of the
eight partner nations.
    Hammond later in the day cheered the F-35B model as "superb"
and as an example of the "merit of cooperating more fully -
pooling demand, investment and technology." 
    "And no two countries are better placed to work together for
the common good than Britain and the U.S.," he said in a speech
hosted by the Center for a New American Security, a private
national security research group. 
    Hammond told Reuters before his speech that Britain
ultimately planned to buy an unspecified number of additional
F-35 models after deciding - as early as 2015 or as late as 2020
- on a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft to replace its
multirole Eurofighter Typhoon fighters.
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