When Will US Air Force F-35s Be Ready for Battle?

On June 30, 2016, three U.S. Air Force F-35As touched down at RAF Fairford in the UK.

Lockheed Martin / Angel Delcueto

AA Font size + Print

On June 30, 2016, three U.S. Air Force F-35As touched down at RAF Fairford in the UK.

The general who will make the decision offered some clues as he celebrated the jet's recent trip across the Atlantic.

RAF FAIRFORD, England – Three F-35A Lightning IIs arrived here last week, the first U.S. Air Force Joint Strike Fighters to make the transatlantic journey. But watchers of the project were more interested in another milestone: When will the plane be ready for war?

“We’re getting very close to initial operational capability,” said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command, using the military’s term for battle-ready. Carlisle spoke to reporters Thursday at the Royal International Air Tattoo, a military airshow in central England, where the jets are to perform. “I’ll make the call. I’ll talk to Secretary [Deborah Lee] James and Gen. [David] Goldfein, [the Air Force chief of staff], and we’ll make the decision on when we’re going to declare IOC.”

The F-35 project office had previously set an Aug. 1 target date for IOC. In recent months, Air Force leaders have said the jet — specifically, a squadron at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base, north of Salt Lake City — would be declared battle-ready sometime between August and December.

But there are a number of benchmarks the plane must hit first — or as Carlisle put it, “It’s capability-based, not time-based.”

At least a dozen individual F-35 must demonstrate their ability to drop bombs and shoot down other planes. Each jet must be upgraded to a specific software package, and plugged into the complex logistics cloud that manages maintenance.

The Marine Corps said its F-35s were ready for war last summer. So, naturally, dozens of reporters here at the Royal International Air Tattoo pressed Carlisle for details.

“If you talk to the young men and women at Hill, Aug. 1 is their plan,” Carlisle said. “No, it’s not off the table.”

So when?

“I personally believe that we’re going to be able to declare IOC at the leading edge of that window,” Carlisle said. “So as we look at things, we’re getting close.”

The Air Force recently deployed seven F-35s from Hill to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. There, the planes fought mock battles against F-15E and F-16 fighters. The F-35s also dropped real bombs and flew all of the planned 88 sorties, exceeding Air Force officials’ expectations.

“Based on everything I know today and how this deployment went, I believe it will be the front end of that window of August to December,” Carlisle said.

So, maybe, expect it before Oct. 15.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.