F-35 squadron makes debut in Yuma

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

YUMA, Ariz. -- The new Marine Corps pilots on Tuesday debuted the branch's next-generation F-35 fighter jet at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

Sen. John McCain, Gov. Jan Brewer and other officials were on hand for the special ceremony at the base. After three speeches, two of the jets landed at the base. They were flown by the first members of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121.

"This aircraft will outperform any other aircraft in the world for many many years ahead," McCain said.

The F-35B would replace Cold War-era aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier. The first F-35B arrived Friday, and 15 more are coming during the next year. The Defense Department has pumped $500 million into upgrading facilities, hangars and runways at the Yuma base.

"It's good for our economy," Brewer said. "It's good for our pride and it's certainly good for our freedom. So this is a great day for everyone."

Other versions of the jet will be built -- one each for the Marines, Air Force, and Navy. Luke Air Force Base in Glendale has already been awarded as the Air Force testing home for the F-35B.

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The jet is far from combat ready and needs more testing. Schedule delays and going over budget have dogged the F-35's development, making it the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program ever. Ten years in, the total F-35 program cost has jumped from $233 billion to an estimated $385 billion. Some suggest the entire program could exceed $1 trillion over 50 years.

Two big issues it faces now are finishing up the helmet, and software problems.

"It's got six million lines of code," Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos said. "So that's a lot. Compare that to the most sophisticated plane out there probably has about 2 million."

 McCain said that despite some trouble in the past, the project is moving in the right direction.

"I am confident that this great city and our beloved state of Arizona will now contribute to another chapter to the defense of the country we all cherish so dearly," said McCain.

The Associated Press contributed to this story