The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is getting another chance to make a splash before major international audiences at two upcoming air shows in the United Kingdom
The U.S. Marine Corps will send a pair of its F-35 variant to the annual Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Airshow outside London, the world’s largest air show, according to Reuters. The Marine’s version of the F-35 can fly from warships and maneuver like a helicopter.
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"The U.S. Marine Corps is looking forward to demonstrating the capabilities of the F-35B Lightning II in the skies over the United Kingdom this July," Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lieutenant General Jon Davis told the wire service in a statement.
The world’s most expensive aircraft was supposed to have its international coming-out party at the Royal International Air Tattoo two years ago but an engine fire erupted aboard a jet as it prepared to take off from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida shortly before the event, grounding the Pentagon’s fleet until the cause was identified and resolved.
Monday’s news will no doubt buoy the program’s defenders, many of whom serve in Congress. Supporters were embarrassed when the festivities were scrapped and feel their patience with the troubled program is finally being rewarded.
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The appearance of a U.S.-built F-35 from Lockheed Martin would be an important milestone for the fighter program, which has cost roughly $400 billion so far.
Last year the Marine Corps was the first military service to declare that its F-35 variant had achieved initial operational capability, meaning it could be deployed anywhere around the globe.
An international debut would show the platform still has the confidence of the Pentagon after years of cost overruns and technical hiccups.
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It would also give a boost to the United Kingdom, one of a team of countries – including Norway, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands -- working to develop the F-35. The U.K. recently affirmed its commitment to the program and accelerated its plans to buy more aircraft.
Israel, Japan and South Korea have also placed orders for the next-generation jet.
Besides the Marine Corps version of the F-35, the U.S. Air Force might send a copy or two of its own variant to appear at this summer’s shows. Together, the branches plan to order around 2,200 of the three F-35 fighter variants.
That figure could increase next month when the Pentagon rolls out is fiscal year 2017 budget request. Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent the Secretary of the Navy a strongly-worded letter last month telling him to scale back plans for the service’s problem-plagued Littoral Combat Ship and invest in other munitions and equipment, including the F-35.