First pieces of America's most expensive military program have arrived in the Central Valley

LEMOORE, Calif. (KFSN) -- The F-35 is designed as a stealth fighter, able to penetrate enemy air defenses undetected, at the same time destroying a multitude of targets in the air and on the ground simultaneously.

That's the pitch Jeff Babione, General Manager of the F-35 program for manufacturer Lockheed Martin, made to the military.

"The 5th generation capability of the F-35 really stands apart against any other airplane, any other 4th generation airplane in the world."

The admirals and officers assembled at Lemoore Naval Air station agreed the plane is vital to the American military pivot to the Pacific.

"As we see the pacific, the south China sea being more of a hotbed, more activity, more operations on the west coast in the south China sea. It was important to bring more assets to the west coast so support the up tempo in the western hemisphere," said Capt. David James, LNAS.

The first wave of four planes just arrived; 30 will be stationed in Lemoore as training aircraft. Up to 100 are expected, and that will ultimately add another 3,500 personnel and family members to the base.

But, the F-35 program has been under fire for costs, President Donald Trump has said it is too expensive, and suggested the Navy beef up its F-18's instead.

Navy officials there said they are not concerned.

"I think the pressure the President applied is all good. He's a businessman he's looking to obtain those capabilities at best cost," said Admiral Schumaker, US Navy Admiral.

The F-18's are about half the price of the F-35's and made by Lockheed Martin's competitor, Boeing. So, it's not clear if President Trump really wants to scuttle the F-35's or just bring down the price, something Lockheed is promising to do.

But officials at the base are optimistic F-35's are coming and here to stay, making this one of the most important naval air bases in the country.
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