Marine Corps Speeds Up F-35B Development

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos follows the Air Force in saying the IOC date for F-35 will be 2015.

The Marine Corps has made the first public announcement of an expected initial operations capability of 2015.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos made the announcement during a presentation May 29 at the Brookings Institution. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley last week said the service will issue a report detailing the operational start date to Congress in coming days.

“The definition of initial operational capability is 10 airplanes, 10 crews, a full maintenance suite that does all the training, all the trainers are all trained up on it,” Amos said. “They’ve been trained, both the pilots and the aircrews, to do the missions of the airplane and they are ship board qualified.”

The Air Force and Marine Corps will fly different variants of the F-35. The Marine Corps will fly the short take off and landing version of the F-35, which will allow pilots to hover before landing much like a Harrier jet.

The Marine Corps stood up its first operational squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Marine Strike Fighter Squadron All Weather-121 converted from F/A-18 Hornets to the Joint Strike Fighter in November 2012. Even though IOC is defined with 10 aircraft, Amos confirmed that the Marine Corps plans for the squadron to fly 16 aircraft.

Amos’ announcement comes after the Pentagon released a report that the price of the Joint Strike Fighter program is slightly dropping. The cost to build the 2,475 F-35 Lightning IIs has dropped by 1 percent to $391 billion.

Amos spent time at the Brookings event explaining the mission sets in which the F-35B would be most effective. He used examples when the Corps flew their Harrier jets to support missions in the Gulf of Aden region, which includes countries such as Somalia and Yemen.

The Marine four-star also hinted that the F-35B could have had a role in Afghanistan and Iraq highlighting that the Harrier flew missions during the initial attack on Baghdad and air support missions during its deployment to Helmand, Afghanistan. Notably, the F-22, the Defense Department’s first fifth generation fighter, didn’t fly a combat mission over Iraq or Afghanistan.