F-35 fighters on Defense Secretary Gates' Texas agenda

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to visit Lockheed Martin's facilities in Fort Worth on Monday to get a firsthand look at and briefing on the progress of the F-35 joint strike fighter program.

Gates, who has been a strong advocate of the F-35, will be accompanied by the Pentagon's top weapons buying executive, Ashton Carter, deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

A team of Pentagon costs analysts is working on an updated assessment of the likely costs and the time required to complete development and testing of the family of new combat aircraft.

Also, Lockheed is struggling to get and keep the flight testing program on schedule.

The program has fallen several months behind on flight testing of the F-35B short-takeoff-vertical-landing model, the first of the three types scheduled to go into service and the most technologically challenging.

Key flight tests of two F-35B aircraft were to have begun in the spring but were pushed back to July. One of the planes, BF-2, has flown 13 times since mid-July and accomplished a number of goals, including in-flight refueling.

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