Air Combat Command (ACC) commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle announced initial operational capability (IOC) for the F-35A Aug. 2, 2016, declaring it “combat ready,” according to an ACC news release.
“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.”
“We’re very proud that the Air Force has declared us combat ready and we’re prepared to take this aircraft wherever it’s needed in support of our national defense.”
The Air Force’s first operational F-35A squadron will be the 388th Fighter Wing’s 34th Fighter Squadron. Located at Hill Air Force Base, the squadron has met all key criteria for IOC, including having airmen trained, manned and equipped in an operational squadron of 12-24 aircraft to conduct basic close air support, interdiction, and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD) in a contested environment; 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.
F-35As of the 34th FS deployed to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in June, and the squadron also carried out a series of eight-aircraft sorties in mid-July. Airmen of the 34th FS will fly and maintain the F-35A alongside Reservists from Hill’s 419th Fighter Wing.
“Our airmen have worked tirelessly to make sure our aircraft are combat ready: meeting challenges head-on and completing all the required milestones,” said Col. David Lyons, the 388th Fighter Wing commander. “We’re very proud that the Air Force has declared us combat ready and we’re prepared to take this aircraft wherever it’s needed in support of our national defense.”
“It’s an honor to fly and maintain the F-35 with our active-duty counterparts here at Hill,” said Col. David Smith, the 419th FW commander. “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 to IOC.”
“Today’s declaration of IOC is an important milestone on the road to achieving full warfighting capability for the F-35A.”
The Air Force had originally announced an expected IOC of December 2016 for the sometimes troubled fifth-generation fighter program, which has been assailed by critics for cost and performance issues.
“Bringing the F-35A to initial combat readiness is a testament to our phenomenal airmen and the outstanding support of the Joint Program Office and our enterprise partners,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “This important milestone for our fighter force ensures the United States, along with our allies and international partners, remains prepared to deter, deny, and defeat the full spectrum of growing threats around the globe.”
In a statement, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein extolled the capabilities the F-35A will bring to the Air Force. “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. 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 said. “Today’s declaration of IOC is an important milestone on the road to achieving full warfighting capability for the F-35A.”