The U.S. Senate approved an amendment to the 2012 defense authorization bill that would allow the United States to exchange certain F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft with the United Kingdom.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sponsored the amendment, which was approved by unanimous consent Nov. 30.
The Senate has also voted to limit debate on the authorization bill to another 30 hours, giving the legislation a chance to make it out of the Senate. If passed, the Senate authorization bill will have to be resolved with the House version passed earlier this year before making its way to the president for his signature.
The Pentagon requested the JSF amendment in a June 14 letter from Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, to Vice President Joseph Biden, in his role as president of the Senate.
The JSF trade, which the Pentagon describes as "mutually beneficial" and "cost neutral," requires such a legislative amendment to be implemented.
According to King's letter, the United States would give the United Kingdom one of its carrier variants (F-35C) in exchange for a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version (F-35B).
The United Kingdom decided last year, as part of its Strategic Defense and Security Review, to stop buying the F-35B. Instead, the Royal Navy will only buy the F-35C, which is being designed for conventional takeoffs and landings on aircraft carriers.
The cost-savings measure resulted in the U.K. having an extra F-35B on its hands.
The United States, which is buying the F-35B for the Marine Corps and the F-35C for the Navy, was not scheduled to receive its F-35Bs until later. A third variant, the F-35A, is being developed for the Air Force.
Under the exchange, the United Kingdom would have to cover any costs required to upgrade its F-35B aircraft so that it would be identical to the version the U.S. had planned to buy, according to the letter. The United Kingdom would also be responsible for any unique requirements it has for the F-35C.
Under the plan, United States would get an F-35B two years earlier. This means $10 million in additional operations and maintenance costs for the Marine Corps in 2013 and 2014 due to increased flight hours, fuel, training costs, etc.
In January, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the F-35B portion of the JSF program on probation for two years, saying he had serious concerns about the aircraft's performance in tests.
"If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled," Gates said.
A separate amendment, also approved Nov. 30, requires Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to submit a report to Congress on the F-35B's probationary period.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sponsored this amendment, which was also approved by unanimous consent.