Rep. Steve Israel, at a flight simulation demonstration in North...

Rep. Steve Israel, at a flight simulation demonstration in North Amityville Wednesday, touted the F-35 fighter program as necessary for both national and economic security. Credit: Newsday/Arnold Miller

The F-35 fighter jet program needs to be fully funded to protect the country and jobs, Rep. Steve Israel said Wednesday at a flight simulation demonstration in North Amityville.

"This program is important not just for national security but for economic security," the Democratic congressman from Dix Hills said. The project, which has been questioned by the Government Accountability Office, directly employs more than 600 people and brings more than $79 million to the five congressional districts on Long Island, according to Lockheed Martin, the plane's manufacturer.

"This is exactly what Long Island needs as we continue through this economic recovery," Israel said at an office of ITT, one the more than 55 area companies supplying components for the $65-million aircraft.

Lockheed Martin expects to produce 12 to 16 of the jets this year and to ramp up production in the coming years until it can manufacture them at a rate of one plane per business day by 2020 at its Texas plant, said Kevin Smith, the company's director of domestic development for the jets. The company expects to sell at least 700 planes to the eight other countries that participated in the plane's development.

ITT manufactures the pneumatic system that releases weapons from the plane's belly and designs lightweight composite material parts for the plane on Long Island. The company, which hosted the flight simulator demonstration, will need to double its nearly 500-person workforce on Long Island to meet the expected manufacturing demand, said James Barber, ITT vice president for integrated structures.

In an effort to cut costs, the plane comes in three versions to accommodate specifications of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Funding for the program -- which the Government Accountability Office said was the defense department's most costly and ambitious aircraft acquisition -- has come under fire as the cost ballooned. The U.S. military plans to spend $385 billion to develop and acquire 2,457 F-35s through 2035, according to a GAO report released this month. Development and acquisition costs have gone up by $149.5 billion since system development began in 2001, even as the number of planes sought was reduced by 409 and delivery dates stretched further into the future.

"After more than nine years in development and four in production, the [F-35] program has not fully demonstrated that the aircraft design is stable, manufacturing processes are mature, and the system is reliable," the GAO report said.

The fiscal 2011 budget compromise cut the program by $2.61 billion, including the elimination of funding to develop an alternate engine for the plane.

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