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Panetta says first F-35 overseas deployment planned for Iwakuni

A crew chief watches as a U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning fighter jet approaches at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 14, 2011.

Plans call for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to get its first overseas deployment in 2017 to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in line with the military’s “Pacific pivot,” according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The F-35B Lightning II — the Navy and Marine Corps variant featuring short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities — has been billed as the next-generation stealth fighter despite complaints about noise and cost overruns. It can travel at speeds of Mach 1.6 — about 1,200 mph — and can land on ships or damaged runways, according to the web site for developer Lockheed Martin Corp.

Panetta’s comments came Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington during a speech on defense strategy, including the shift of resources to the Pacific.

“We are also enhancing our presence and capabilities in the region,” Panetta said. “That includes reallocating the naval fleet to achieve in these next few years a 60/40 split between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans — hopefully, we will do that by 2020 — increasing Army and Marine presence in the region after Iraq and Afghanistan, locating our most advanced aircraft in the Pacific, including new deployments of F-22s and the MV-22 Ospreys to Japan, and laying the groundwork for the first overseas deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Iwakuni in 2017.”

Marine Corps officials at MCAS Iwakuni said they had not yet heard about the plans.

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