Where Will Lightning Strike Next?

After Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at MCAS Yuma, Ariz., is fully equipped, the Marine Corps will replace Marine Attack Squadron 211’s AV-8Bs in 2016, and will replace VMFA-122’s F/A-18s in 2018. The F-35B also will replace the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare jet, but the Marine Corps did not specify when it would start taking over that airplane’s role. In the Air Force, initial operational capability with the F-35A is scheduled for one year from now, in August 2016. USAF must have 12-24 aircraft, plus trained pilots and maintainers, as well as sufficient go-to-war stocks, in order for the head of Air Combat Command to declare IOC. Hill AFB, Utah, activated the first Air Force squadron on July 21, and the F-35A depot, also at Hill, is already performing that mission. The Navy is slotted to declare IOC with the carrier-capable F-35C between August 2018 and February 2019. It will declare with 10 aircraft, plus necessary personnel and parts. The Marine Corps was first to declare IOC with the F-35B for two reasons. First, it faced the most urgent need, as its AV-8B Harriers had been extended well past their planned service lives, and second?, because the short takeoff/vertical landing aspect of the jet proved troublesome early on, and it received the most attention of the three variants. (See also Build Lightning, Then Change.)