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Chief Petty Officer Kristopher Smith gives the thumbs up for pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk to lift an F-35B Lightning II off the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp during testing in October, 2011. The F-35B is the Marine Corps Joint Strike Force variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Chief Petty Officer Kristopher Smith gives the thumbs up for pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk to lift an F-35B Lightning II off the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp during testing in October, 2011. The F-35B is the Marine Corps Joint Strike Force variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. (Andrew M. Rivard/U.S. Navy)

The Marine Corps' version of the next-generation strike fighter jet got a qualified endorsement Friday from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who said that while the military is committed to developing the F-35, the program is "not out of the woods yet."

"This fifth-generation fighter behind me is absolutely vital to maintaining our air superiority," Panetta said at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., the program's home base.

The Associated Press story about Panetta's visit to Patunxet.


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