The Air Force is “green” for initial operational capability with the F-35A next August, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, director of USAF’s F-35’s integration office, told reporters Monday at ASC15. All 12 to 14 of the F-35As to be delivered to Hill AFB, Utah, between now and next August will be in the 3I software configuration, but there will be at least one more software drop between now and then. The first two jets, alre?ady delivered, are in the 3I.R5 version, but 3I.R6 will be the version at IOC. Jets needing physical modifications to the IOC standard can be altered on the flightline at Hill without a depot visit, he said. The squadron will have about 30 pilots and 240 maintainers, all of whom are “on their way.” There will be some sort of operational readiness drill a couple of months before IOC, during which the unit will be evaluated on its proficiency in “basic” close air support, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), and destruction of enemy air defenses (DEAD). Harrigian said that air-to-air capability is included in the SEAD and DEAD missions, as “they fight their way in.” The drill is “similar” to that the Marine Corps performed just prior to declaring IOC with the F-35B in late July, Harrigian noted.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.