Commandant Autographs F-35s While Touring Lockheed Factory in Texas


The Marine Corps' top officer recently revealed that some fresh-from-the-factory F-35 jets will come to the fleet with an added feature: his signature.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition in Washington, D.C., last week, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said he had visited Lockheed Martin's factory in Fort Worth, Texas the day before to inspect the new Joint Strike Fighters as they rolled off the production line and to meet with Lockheed executives.

"I got to sign a few F-35s," he said.

On some, he said, he wrote "property of the U.S. Marine Corps." He then acknowledged this might be a faux pas, as some of the aircraft he signed were the F-35C variant -- the Navy version of the aircraft.

Other jets received a benediction of sorts for future missions.

"[I wrote] 'fly well. Be accurate and on time," Neller said. "Kill the bad man."

Neller said the Marines' use of new F-35Bs would change the way the Corps responds to crisis and how it uses the amphibious ships the jets are set to deploy with.

"[At the Lockheed Martin factory] there were a number of our pilots that are flying this jet, and we were talking with them about how this is going to change what we do," Neller said. "You always want to do what you do better. But I think we're at a point now where we need to do what we do different."

He reaffirmed the Marines' plans to deploy a squadron of F-35s to Iwakuni, Japan in January, 2017, where he said the aircraft would spend time on amphibious ships.

"Now we're going to put a 5th generation airplane with stealth capability, able to penetrate most air defenses in the world on an amphib ship," he said. "So what does that do for the doctrine, the strategy, the operational art of the [Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit]? I think it changes the whole game."

Speaking to Marines in California this week, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the 2017 defense budget request would accelerate F-35 buys for the Marine Corps, enabling the Corps to employ them more rapidly.

Neller acknowledged the Corps was still "working through" software glitches and technical issues with the F-35 -- "things that make it almost as much a flying smartphone as it is an airplane" -- but added he anticipates great things from the aircraft.

"I think it's going to provide a huge capability to the joint force and the nation and give us a great opportunity to look at how we do what we do -- our business," Neller said. "And it will be better, but it will be different."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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