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U.S. Air Force Declares Initial Operational Capability on F-35A

F-35A Lightning II aircraft receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender on July 13, 2016, during a flight from England to the U.S. after participating in the world's largest air show, the Royal International Air Tattoo. US Air Force photo.

F-35A Lightning II aircraft receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender on July 13, 2016, during a flight from England to the U.S. after participating in the world’s largest air show, the Royal International Air Tattoo. US Air Force photo.

The U.S. Air Force declared initial operational capability (IOC) on its F-35A Joint Strike Fighter today.

Commander of Air Combat Command Gen. Hawk Carlisle certified that the plane had met all key criteria to be considered “combat ready”: it has enough trained airmen to support an operational deployment of 12 to 24 planes for close air support, interdiction, and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses missions; the ability to deploy and conduct missions using program of record weapons; and the proper logistics in place to sustain a deployed force.

“I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,” Carlisle said in a statement.
“The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory, because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield.”

The Air Force activated its first operational F-35A squadron – the 34th Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing, based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah – on July 17 Ahead of the IOC declaration, that squadron deployed to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho in June and conducted a series of eight-aircraft sorties in mid-July. The first planes delivered last September and have since underdone modifications.

“Our Airmen have worked tirelessly to make sure our aircraft are combat ready: meeting challenges head-on and completing all the required milestones,” Col. David Lyons, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in the statement.
“We’re very proud that the Air Force has declared us combat ready and we’re prepared to take this aircraft wherever it’s needed in support of our national defense.”

F-35 Program Executive Officer Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan said in the statement that “the U.S. Air Force decision to make the 15 F-35As at Hill Air Force Base combat ready sends a simple and powerful message to America’s friends and foes alike – the F-35 can do its mission.”

Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Executive Vice President and General Manager, congratulated the Air Force, saying in the statement that “the multi-service F-35 Lightning II represents a quantum leap in air power. With the F-35A, the Air Force now has a fighter combining next-generation radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. It will provide Airmen unprecedented lethality and survivability, a capability they will use to defend America and our allies for decades to come.”

The Marine Corps declared IOC on its F-35B last July after putting its first operational squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, through an operational readiness inspection – something that was not required by the Department of Defense but instead was borrowed from the British military. In the past year, the service has stood up its second squadron and continues to refine its tactics to make best use of the planes’ capabilities.

“The roads leading to IOC for both Services were not easy and these accomplishments are tangible testaments to the positive change happening in the F-35 program,” Bogdan said.

Categories: Aviation, News & Analysis, U.S. Air Force
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.