Top Marine vows to oversee fighter jet program

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2011 5:26 PM
Top Marine vows to oversee fighter jet program

The Marine Corps' top leader is vowing to personally oversee the embattled effort to replace its aircraft with the F-35B fighter jet that's being scrutinized by budget-cutting lawmakers.

Commandant Gen. James Amos made the promise Tuesday in a report to Congress on the Corps' future.

Amos said the F-35B is vital to his vision of Marines _ largely relegated to a second land army during the past decade of war _ becoming a leaner, more versatile, middleweight force.

Congress has been looking closely at the $380 billion program, which is one of the Pentagon's largest and has been plagued by problems that have delayed the aircraft's testing.

Amos said the jet has made significant progress recently. It had 22 successful vertical landings this year, he noted, which is double the number it made last year.

"I am confident that we will field this aircraft in accordance with responsible timelines," Amos said in his report. "This matter has my unwavering attention, and I am personally overseeing this program."

The Marine Corps F-35B is one of three versions being built for the military to replace the aging F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, AV-8B Harrier jump jets and EA-6B Prowlers. The Navy and Air Force will have their own versions of the jet.

Amos also said he will also oversee the search for a new seafaring tank with the expected elimination of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle _ another costly and beleaguered weapons program that was to replace the Corps' aging vehicles that transport troops quickly from ship to shore.

Some lawmakers said the $12 billion program's apparent demise highlighted a breakdown in oversight of military programs. More than $3 billion was spent on the EFV since the 1990s. Up until a few months ago, Marine leaders had lobbied aggressively for the EFV, saying it was central to its mission as an amphibious force.

But they later agreed with the Obama administration that the high-tech amphibious vehicles had become too costly and were no longer a viable option. The Corps said the cost of each EFV had more than tripled, from $5 million apiece in 1995 to $17 million now.

Amos said he is now seeking an alternative program that will be affordable from the start and will leverage the $3 billion investment made in developing the EFV.

"We intend to mitigate risks associated with a new vehicle program and to maximize value by use of an integrated acquisition portfolio approach," Amos said in his report.

Amos said the Corps also is seeking funds to extend the life of a portion of its current fleet of Nixon-era Amphibious Assault Vehicles.