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The Defense Department has announced the advancement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to full-rate production.

William LaPlante, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, finalized the decision, known as Milestone C, signaling a significant progression for the F-35 program. This step marks the culmination of more than four years of anticipation and multiple delays due to the establishment of the Joint Simulation Environment tests, which are crucial for the aircraft’s development.

In a statement, LaPlante said, “This is a major achievement for the F-35 program. This decision — backed by my colleagues in the department — highlights to the services, F-35 cooperative program partners, and foreign military sales customers that the F-35 is stable and agile, and that all statutory and regulatory requirements have been appropriately addressed.”

The approval for Milestone C follows the Defense Acquisition Board’s meeting on March 7 to deliberate on escalating the F-35 into its next production phase. The Pentagon highlighted that achieving this milestone prepares the F-35 program to efficiently produce and deliver the next generation of fighter jets, adhering to stringent performance, reliability, and support criteria.

Despite Lockheed Martin producing approximately 150 jets annually at near-full capacity, this transition into full-rate production is anticipated to modestly influence the production rate. Despite this, the F-35 program has witnessed significant enhancements, focusing on sustainability, interoperability, and lethality to support combat readiness. Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt said, “The F-35 enterprise has made significant improvements over the last decade, and we will always be driven to continuously improve sustainability, interoperability, and lethality so warfighters have the capability needed to fight and win when called to do so. Moreover, the program and our great people can now focus on the future of the F-35 instead of the past.”


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