Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh offered a full defense of the F-35 during a Wednesday press conference with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, saying changes to accident investigation protocol are in the works in the wake of a June engine fire at Eglin AFB, Fla. Welsh said the F-35 is USAF’s “only answer” for future requirements for its tactical fighter fleet. He noted that Eglin’s 58th Fighter Squadron now has a full complement of 26 F-35s, and while they remain on restricted flight status until the service completely understands the “root cause” of the June fire, he said he believes the Air Force will still make its projected initial operational capability target in late 2016. Welsh pointed out the June mishap was the first major engine fire to occur in the F-35 flight after 14,000 flight hours. However, he did posit changes to the F-35 investigation process are in the works, saying the military services are working on a new agreement for information sharing in F-35 mishap investigations. There was no such agreement in place to ensure representatives from all areas, each of the services and the Joint Program Office, could get access to key information and be a part of the interim safety board process. “This won’t happen again,” Welsh said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee released its version of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act on Oct. 18, proposing an additional half billion dollars for the Space Force's 2022 budget and an extra 16 C-130Js for the Air Force, while leaving the service's requests for F-35s and F-15EXs untouched.