The commander of the first combat F-35A unit said Tuesday the jet did well at its “graduation” deployment test, and that he’ll be able to recommend declaring it ready for initial operational capability “very soon.” Col. David Lyons, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, said a June 6-17 deployment of seven F-35As to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, “proved” the fighter can deploy, operate, and fight. During the evaluation, the Autonomic Logistics and Information System (ALIS), “performed the way it was supposed to,” and he reported “zero” problems with the jet’s 3i software, with no need to reboot it. “We flew 88 of 88 scheduled sorties,” Lyons said, flying both alongside and against F-16s and F-15Es in a variety of scenarios against a representative heavy air defense system. The F-35s flew close air support, suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, and overall scored hits with 39 of 40 GBU-12 and GBU-31 inert bombs—one miss was due to a hardware problem with the bomb—while achieving a 92.3 percent mission capable rate. Lyons said he sees no problem with declaring IOC “on time,” even though there are still a few blocks yet to check, such as an eight-ship generation and some pilot certification. “Then we’ll be ready to make the recommendation,” Lyons said, although declaring IOC is the purview of Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle, and Lyons said there may be “programmatic” considerations that could affect the timing. Asked if he thinks the jet is ready for combat, Lyons said, “yes.”
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.