The JSF STOVL lands — but will it fly?

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The Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is officially on shaky ground, as observers of military affairs learned Jan. 6 when Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed concern over “significant testing problems” and announced he was putting the F-35B “on the equivalent of a two-year probation.” Oddly, that same day, manufacturer Lockheed Martin said the jet made its first vertical landing — at the same base, Naval Air Station Patuxent, Md., where the jet completed its first successful hover test in March.

Impressive. What can’t be seen, however, are the testing problems that Gates could 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.” If these issues can’t be remedied in two years and the variant isn’t back on track “in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled,” Gates said.

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