Legislators from North Carolina are pushing the Navy to fund construction of a repair facility planned for Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point.
The vertical lift fan repair and test facility would be part of FRC East’s repair work on the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and would cost an estimated $43.6 million.
Sen. Kay Hagan and Reps. G.K. Butterfield, George Holding, Walter B. Jones and Mike McIntyre sent a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus requesting the restoration of planned funding for construction of the facility. Though Sen. Richard Burr did not sign the letter, a spokeswoman from his office said that he supported the project and planned to tell Mabus in a personal meeting.
The letter points out that the project was originally to be constructed in 2012, but delays and budget issues prompted the Navy to remove it from the Future Years Defense Program. The legislators want the project funded in 2018 and point out that the recent approval of a pair of budget bills removed most of the across-the-board sequestration cuts that have been affecting the Navy.
“We believe the Navy should provide its own level of certainty to the Joint Strike Fighter Program, the Marine Corps and our international partners” by including the funding for the project, the letter said, which goes on to call the project cost-effective and “absolutely essential.”
Previously, the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group has stated that support for long-term projects like the lift fan facility are paramount to maintaining FRC East’s status as the Navy’s “Vertical Lift Center of Excellence.”
One concern in the letter is that the Department of Defense may rely solely on Lockheed Martin, the jet’s manufacturer, to conduct repair and testing for the aircraft’s vertical lift fan.
“We believe that there is a high risk to readiness by relying on a single source of depot-level repair and testing for a high-stress component like the vertical lift fan (VLF) of the F-35B,” the letter states.
Currently, FRC East is making modifications on two F-35Bs at its Cherry Point shops, but that is expected to grow to six-at-a-time by 2015.
Cherry Point is scheduled to begin receiving the first of its six operational squadrons of F-35Bs in 2021 or 2022.
Including the Air Force A and Navy C models, the Joint Strike Fighter program is the defense department’s most expensive project. For the Marine Corps, the plane will be replacing the AV-8B Harrier, the EA-6B Prowler and the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The new jet is expected to be operating for the next 40 to 50 years, which is why North Carolina legislators are so eager to secure the state’s role in maintaining them and the jobs that come with it.