F-35A Showtime

The Air Force anticipates that the F-35A strike fighter will be ready for initial real-world operations by December 2016, service officials told Congress last week. The Air Force intends to declare initial operational capability sometime between August 2016 and December 2016 when the first F-35A operational squadron has 12 to 24 aircraft in place and sufficient airmen are trained to fly and maintain them, according to a Pentagon report issued to lawmakers on May 31. The F-35As at IOC will be capable of conducting basic close air support, interdiction, and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defense operations in a contested environment, states the report. “This announcement is exciting news for the Air Force,” said Secretary Michael Donley in a May 31 release. At IOC, the F-35As will utilize Block 3I software—the Block 2B software package hosted on a better system of processors, sources indicated. While the F-35As in that configuration will be adequate for threats of 2016, the report states that “the Air Force will require the enhanced lethality and survivability inherent in Blocks 3F and beyond” to meet requirements in later years. In the Fiscal 2013 defense policy act, lawmakers directed the services to inform them by June 1 of the projected IOC dates for the Air Force, Marine Corps (see below), and Navy F-35 variants. (F-35 IOC report to Congress)