US secretary of defense Leon Panetta says that the delivery of the UK's first Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter 19 July at the company's Fort Worth, Texas, plant marks an important milestone in the two countries' security relationship.

The event will mark the first time an international partner has taken delivery of the stealthy fifth-generation fighter. It is also marks the first time a stealth aircraft has been exported by the United States.


 ©Lockheed Martin

"I'm delighted that [UK secretary of state for defence Philip]Hammond will have the opportunity to mark yet another milestone in our defence relationship tomorrow by taking the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter," Panetta says. "The United Kingdom was the first partner nation to join the F-35 program and has been a tremendous partner throughout the development, testing and the initial production."

The secretary adds that the F-35 is the future not only of all three US tactical air forces, but also those of the UK. "This fighter plane is critical to our future defence strategy," Panetta says.

Hammond says that the US Navy and US Marine Corps have been providing vital support needed to help the UK regenerate its carrier-based capabilities.

"The Department of Defense has been massively supportive of and is providing us with all sorts of facilities to maintain and regenerate our capabilities to operate the carrier flight deck and to maintain the skills in our pilots," he says.

Asked if the USMC and UK F-35B variant was in any danger of cancellation due to impending budget cuts, Panetta says that DOD remains fully committed to the F-35 project.

"We're committed to all of the three variants, because we think that each of the forces will be able to use that kind of weaponry for the future, so that we can effectively control the skies as we confront the enemies of tomorrow," Panetta says.

But the DOD and industry have to work to control the jet's cost. "It's something we have to continue to put pressure on, to maintain cost controls on," Panetta says. "And we are working with the industry to do that."

Source: Flight International