Air Force Declares F-35A Ready for War

F-35A Lightning II aircraft receive aerial refuelings from a Travis KC-10 Extender July 13, 2016 on the flight from England to the United States. The fighters were returning to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona after participating in the world's largest air show. (U.S. Air Force photos by Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown)F-35A Lightning II aircraft receive aerial refuelings from a Travis KC-10 Extender July 13, 2016 on the flight from England to the United States. The fighters were returning to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona after participating in the world's largest air show. (U.S. Air Force photos by Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown)

Today was a historic day for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program — the Pentagon’s largest acquisition effort.

In case you missed the big news, the Air Force declared its version of the stealth fifth-generation fighter jet, the F-35A, was ready for initial operations or, in acquisition parlance, reached initial operational capability, known as IOC. My colleague Hope Hodge Seck has the full story over at Military.com.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made aircraft is actually going to war anytime soon.

Remember the Air Force said the F-22 Raptor, a twin-engine stealth fifth-generation fighter, was ready for initial operations in 2005, though the plane, also made by Lockheed, didn’t fly its first combat mission until 2014 during the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.

Indeed, Air Force Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said he wanted to deploy the F-35 to the European and Pacific theaters within the next year and a half — around 2018. “Within 18 months, I’ll try to get it to both those theaters,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.

Carlisle also avoided detailing how and when the aircraft will perform varying levels of close air support. That has been a point of debate as the service recently signaled an interest in developing a new version of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which is among the aircraft the F-35 was designed to replace.

The milestone announcement came in the early part of a time frame that was estimated from August to December, though it’s worth noting that the Joint Strike Fighter program’s original IOC date was 2011.

Even so, with the F-35B’s recent debut in the United Kingdom and the Air Force joining the Marine Corps in having aircraft ready to fly at least some missions, supporters will likely argue the program has turned a corner.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.