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Chief of Naval Operations ADM Gary Roughead and Marine Corps Commandant Gen James Amos signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on tactical aircraft integration (TACAIR) on March 14. The MoU means that the Marines will provide five squadrons of F-35C Joint Strike Fighters to naval carrier air wings. The Corps is now planning to procure 80 F-35Cs in addition to 340 F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variants. However, the Corps was keen to point out that the continued development of F-35B 'remains the centerpiece of the USMC TACAIR fixed-wing modernization program'.
The first F-35B (BF-01) completed its 100th flight on March 7, but the fate of the variant is far from certain. The new MoU is part of a plan to ensure the fielding of a suitable mix of F-35Cs to ensure that Marine squadrons can continue to support carrier air wing deployments.
The initial F-35C test aircraft (CF-01) exceeded the speed of sound for the first time near NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, on March 4. It achieved Mach 1.02 at an altitude of 30,000ft as part of a test mission to expand the aircraft's flutter envelope.
F-35 flight-testing was then suspended after a dual generator failure and oil leak during a flight by AF-04 on March 9. The F-35A recovered safely at Edwards AFB, and Lockheed Martin described the temporary suspension as 'a routine safety precaution' while the root cause of the problem is investigated.
According to the JSF Program Director, Lockheed Martin remains on track to field the F-35A in Fiscal Year 2016 despite recent changes that extended flight-testing. The decision added an additional cost of $4.6 billion to the program, which has continued to make progress. Flight-testing has been extended until 2016 and the number of flights increased from 5,800 to 7,700. As of March 4, the two production jets and 11 pre-production aircraft had completed 683 flights.