An Early Jolt of Lightning, Maybe

The Air Force could be in a position to deploy some of its F-35A strike fighters to combat even before the new stealth aircraft is formally declared ready for operations, Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, Air Staff lead for operations, plans, and requirements, told lawmakers Tuesday. “If the combatant commanders said, ‘We need this capability,’ then we would clearly provide it,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s airland panel. The Air Force anticipates reaching initial operational capability with the F-35A in late 2017 or sometime in 2018. Combat-ready F-35As are planned to have the Block 3 software and hardware suite, said Carlisle. Before that milestone, however, the Air Force expects to have “on the order of a hundred airplanes” in the earlier Block 2B configuration delivered to operational units, he explained. Those aircraft will still possess “a lot of capability . . . that is very impressive,” he said. Plus, those units will be training and developing tactics, techniques, and procedures, and the logistics infrastructure will be maturing, he said. Depending on the circumstances, “we would, with all the safety considerations, be ready to go,” said Carlisle. (Carlisle’s prepared testimony)