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Secretary Defense Chuck Hagel visits Eglin with good things to say about F35 program

The F-35 joint strike fighter has taken a lot of flack from critics. Development and testing is at least 5 years behind schedule and the cost keeps climbing.
However, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says he believes in the F-35 joint strike fighter and Eglin Air Force base.

All F-35's were grounded last year, when a cracked engine blade was found at Edwards Air Force base, California.
And flights are suspended now, because of a fire in a plane last month at Eglin.

Defense Secretary Hagel visited Eglin this morning and spoke to the 33rd Fighter Wing.

The F-35 may be on the ground temporarily, but they are still the stars of the show here at the 33rd Fighter Wing. No more so than today, when the name of the Secretary of Defense is right there on the front of the jet.

Hagel told the troops he has confidence in them, and in the F-35 program. "I know there are issues, I don't know of a platform we've ever had, we've ever designed, ever tried and put in service, that didn't go through.....issues."

In a private meeting with pilots, Hagel says he heard good things. Some said the jet is the best they've flown and the easiest. "It's always an honor to have people from Washington DC, some of the decision makers coming on to Eglin Air Force base. It certainly identifies to us and signifies how important this program is to national defense," said Lt. Col. Eric Smith with the 33rd Fighter Wing.
With 8 Countries on board and several more talking about buying the F-35, Hagel's press Secretary said the visit sends a strong message that the U.S is committed to this jet. But Hagel wouldn't say if the F-35 will be flying in time for an international air show next week. "Safety is the first priority, and we're not going to ask anyone to risk their lives on any platform, for any reason."

F-35 squadrons have now been established at a number of other bases, but Hagel says Eglin is essential to the program's training, modernization and readiness. "And the future of Eglin is very bright."

The Secretary also had positive words about the future of all the military operations in our area. He said the partnership between Northwest Florida and the Department of Defense is a good one.