US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will leave Wednesday on a two-day domestic trip that includes a stop at the much-watched F-35 joint strike fighter schoolhouse at Eglin Air Force Base on the Florida panhandle.
During the visit, Hagel plans to stress the Pentagon’s commitment to the multinational, multiservice program, despite the fleet being grounded following a June 23 engine fire that broke out on an Air Force jet attempting to take off.
“The secretary’s visit particularly at this time sends a strong message to our international partners that the United States remains fully committed to the F-35 program,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told a news conference on Tuesday. “I don’t want to get ahead of the investigation that you all know is ongoing with respect to the fire that occurred recently, but I can say that Secretary Hagel was confident that the investigation will help the F-35 return to flight, and he’s looking forward to hearing more firsthand from the folks on the ground there at Eglin.”
In additional to Eglin, Hagel has stops planned at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia and Fort Rucker in Alabama, which is home to Army helicopter pilot training.
Defense officials are billing trip as an opportunity to see weapons which the secretary made priorities in the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal, which was sent to Congress in March.
“Throughout this trip, the secretary will highlight and see firsthand some of the core capabilities that he prioritized in our budget submission earlier this year to ensure that our force is ready, agile, modern, and effective to confront the full range of challenges that we’ll face in the future,” Kirby said.
Hagel “wants to ensure that the department doesn’t lose sight of our long-term priorities,” Kirby said of the trip.
At Kings Bay, Hagel will tour the USS Tennessee, a ballistic missile submarine and the Trident Refit Facility, which oversees the overhaul, modernization and repair of the nuclear-powered submarines.
At Fort Rucker plans to highlight the Army’s aviation restructure initiative, Kirby said.
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