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F-35 program celebrates 100th fighter jet

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The F-35 Lightning II program, which is developing a stealthy new fighter jet for U.S. and allied forces, celebrated the production of its 100th aircraft at a Dec. 13 ceremony at its assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.

"The 100th F-35 symbolizes the maturation of the F-35 program by the collective government and industry partner team as we prepare to ramp up production," said Lorraine Martin, the F-35 program manager for prime contractor Lockheed Martin. "It took the collaboration of thousands of people – customers, employees and suppliers – from all over the world to make this day possible."

According to the company, the ceremony drew more than 2,000 employees and guests.

The U.S. Department of Defense is receiving 95 of the first 100 F-35s. The other five have been delivered to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The newly built 100th aircraft will be used to train pilots and is the first of 144 F-35s headed to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, according to the U.S. Air Force.

Also on Dec. 13, Gen. Mark Welsh, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said at a Pentagon press briefing that his service remains on track to begin fielding its variant of the fighter -- the conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35A -- in 2016. He told reporters that the program, which has a history of cost, schedule and performance problems, is now making steady progress in developing software, increasing production rates and reducing production costs.

“Since 2011, the program has met milestones consistently,” Welsh said. “The 100th airplane coming off the production line is not a minor thing.”

The U.S. Marines are getting the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant, while the U.S. Navy is buying the F-35C carrier variant. Thousands of F-35s are to be built for the United States and at least 10 other countries.

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