An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on display at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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FORT WORTH (AP) — A U.S. defense official says Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is giving fresh backing to the Marine Corps’ version of the next-generation fighter jet, the F-35.

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The F-35, which is developing Navy and Air Force variants, is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program. It has faced delays and other problems that raised doubts about its future.

During a visit Friday to a naval air station in Maryland, Panetta will announce that the Marines’ version of the Fort Worth-built joint strike fighter is no longer on what Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, called “probation.” That’s according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.

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Gates announced one year ago that if the Marines’ version of the plane had not overcome its problems within two years he would attempt to cancel it.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)