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Troubled Waters: F-35 to Undergo Tests Aboard New Amphibious Ship

With plans to ultimately deploy the troubled F-35 Joint Strike fighter from sea-based platforms, the US Marine Corps is preparing to test the aircraft’s vertical lift and landing capabilities aboard the USS America.

The USS America (LHA-6) is the first in a class of amphibious warships intended to serve as an expeditionary strike group. The ships will accommodate a fleet of MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and Marine Corps helicopters.

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But the USS America will also be one of the first ships to accommodate up to six F-35Bs, the short takeoff and vertical-lift variant of the beleaguered jet fighter.

Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday, Col.George Rowell, commanding officer of the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) said the F-35B would be tested aboard the ship during a three-and-a-half-week exercise in October.

"We’re going to take a VMX jet to the ship, put it in a hangar bay, tear it apart, and put it together again, just to make sure that everything goes well," he said, according to DoD Buzz.

"I know it will be great, but these are just those things where we go, 'OK, I think it will be good.'"

The tests will include replacing the aircraft’s state-of-the-art lift fan and performing simulations on the ship’s flight deck.

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Given the aircraft’s history, there’s no reason to believe that the maintenance tests will bear anything but negative results. Despite a $1 trillion price tag, the jet, developed by defense giant Lockheed Martin, has experienced software glitches, major engine problems, and problems with basic flight performance.

Rowell seemed aware of the jet’s reputation.

"Maybe we’ll get some other aircraft out there too to see some loading of the deck and the ship," he suggested.

The F-35B has performed previous tests aboard the USS Wasp. While the Marine Corps currently has 45 F-35s in service, it ultimately plans to buy 353 B variants and 63 F-35C carrier variants.

At roughly $100 million per plane, not including maintenance expense, the acquisition will cost billions more than what the Pentagon has already spent on development.

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