The US Air Force has declared the F-35 A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter jet as ready for combat, a major milestone for the futuristic aircraft dogged by delays and cost overruns.
The US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter congratulated the air force on the announcement and said this is a significant milestone for an aircraft that will allow the US to maintain the advantage of air superiority for years to come.
“I know that even after being declared combat ready, there is more work to do with this critical program, but the Air Force, Air Combat Command and the men and women of Hill Air Force Base should be proud of this major step forward for the F-35A,” Carter said.
The fighter jet is the latest addition to the US Air Force’s fleet of deployable and fifth-generation aircraft.
“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,” General Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command said.
It provides air superiority, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses and close air support as well as great command and control functions through fused sensors, and it will provide pilots with unprecedented situational awareness of the battlespace that will be more extensive than any single-seat platform in existence, the Pentagon said.
Carlisle said the aircraft has met all key criteria for reaching initial operational capability — Airmen trained, manned and equipped to conduct basic close air support, interdiction and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses in a contested environment with an operational squadron of 12-24 aircraft.
It also has the ability to deploy and conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems and having all necessary logistics and operational elements in place, he added.
Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the aircraft’s achievement of initial operational capability is another important milestone in the Joint Strike Fighter program.
“But for the most expensive weapons system in history, the road ahead remains long,” he said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to exercise rigorous oversight of the Joint Strike Fighter program’s long-delayed system development and demonstration phase as well as the start of the operational test and evaluation phase.
“These next steps are critical to verifying the F-35As ability to successfully recapitalise our ageing and increasingly vulnerable fighter force structure,” he said The 34th Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing, based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, is the service’s first operational F-35A squadron, having met all the established criteria for initial operational capability including a successful June deployment to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and a series of eight-aircraft sorties held in mid-July.
“Bringing the F-35A to initial combat readiness is a testament to our phenomenal Airmen and the outstanding support of the Joint Program Office and our enterprise partners,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.
Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David L Goldfein, said that dynamic new capability will benefit the joint war fighter.
“The F-35A brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability to joint and combined operations, and is ready to deploy and strike well-defended targets anywhere on Earth,” he said.