US Air Combat Command Declares F-35A ‘Combat Ready’

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F-35A Lightning II aircraft receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., July 13, 2016, during a flight from England to the U.S. The fighters were returning to Luke AFB, Ariz., after participating in the world's largest air show, the Royal International Air Tattoo. (Photo: U.S. Air Force by Madelyn Brown)

The F-35A Lightning II fifth generation fighter aircraft was declared ‘combat ready’ today by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command. The 34th Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing, based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is the service’s first operational F-35A squadron, having met all the established criteria for Initial Operational Capability including a successful June deployment to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and a series of eight-aircraft sorties held in mid-July. Currently equipped with 15 combat-ready aircraft, the unit will eventually operate 24 F-35As.

Gen. “Hawk” Carlisle, Commander, Air Combat Command lauded the efforts of the Airmen and the Joint Program Office in bringing “this powerful new weapons system” to operational capability. He noted that the aircraft had met all key criteria for reaching initial operational capability: Airmen trained, manned and equipped to conduct basic close air support, interdiction, and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses in a contested environment. All that is achieved with an operational squadron of 12-24 aircraft; the ability to deploy and conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems; and having all necessary logistics and operational elements in place. An official ceremony is scheduled at Hill AFB on Friday August 5.

“I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,” Carlisle said. “The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield.”

The Marine Corps inducted their first F-35B squadron at Yuma Air Station in Arizona in June last year and are currently fielding the VMFA-211, the second unit at the base. The first operational F-35B squadron, Marine Fighter Attack 121 (VMFA-121) currently has 10 F-35Bs and is scheduled to deploy to Iwakuni air station in Japan next year. By the next summer, the unit will get six additional jets and, by the summer of 2018, deploy to its first mission at sea, on board the Wasp Class amphibious landing dock USS Bonhomme Richard.

While the F-35A is declared ‘combat ready’ it is not likely to deploy overseas in the near future, but the aircraft and crews will take part in combat training, to assess and demonstrate the jet’s capabilities and demonstrate its combat readiness.

The F-35A is the latest addition to ACC’s fleet of deployable and fifth generation aircraft. It provides air superiority, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses and close air support as well as excellent command and control functions through fused sensors, and will provide pilots with unprecedented situational awareness of the battlespace that will be more extensive than any single-seat platform in existence.

“The combat ready F-35A is the latest fifth generation fighter aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory and provides our nation air dominance in any environment.” Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force said. “The F-35A brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability to joint and combined operations, and is ready to deploy and strike well-defended targets anywhere on Earth,” Goldfein added.

34 FS Airmen will fly and maintain the F-35A alongside Air Force Reservists from Hill’s 419th Fighter Wing. “It’s an honor to fly and maintain the F-35 with our active duty counterparts here at Hill,” 419 FW commander Col. David Smith, said. “Our units were the first to fly combat-ready F-16s nearly 40 years ago, and we’re very proud to have made history once again in bringing the Air Force’s newest fighter jet.