Despite Pentagon officials' concerns about the future of the Joint Strike Fighter program, work continues at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to prepare for the next-generation jets.
The Navy notified contractors last month of plans to build five vertical-landing pads at the base, according to officials.
Unlike the F-18 Hornets they are replacing, the Marine Corps' version of the JSF, also known as the F-35B, can take off and land vertically. The pads will cost $16 million to $19 million and be made partly of advanced high-temperature concrete material, according to the Navy. The contract for the pads is expected to be awarded in June.
MCAS Beaufort will be home to three new active-duty JSF squadrons and two pilot-training squadrons, a transition requiring $351.8 million in improvements over the next five years, according to the Navy. The planes are scheduled to arrive in 2013 or 2014.
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Construction that started in September continues on a $70 million hangar and training facility. Workers are preparing the site for the hangar and will soon erect the exterior walls of the flight simulator, said base spokesman Lt. Sharon Hyland. No major delays have been reported, Hyland said.
The work, by Florida contractor Hensel Phelps, is expected to be completed by September 2013.
The Joint Strike Fighter has become the costliest arms program in U.S. history, and its price could be rising.
In an interview with AOL Defense, Vice Adm. David Venlet, executive officer of the JSF program, said the project should be slowed further in the next few years because fatigue testing reveals potential cracks and "hot spots" in the jet's frame.
"Most of them are little ones, but when you bundle them all up ... and look at where they are in the airplane and how hard they are to get at ... the cost burden of that is what sucks the wind out of your lungs," Venlet told the website.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned the JSF program could be part of Pentagon cuts; the plane's development also could be delayed or even terminated.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.