The US Air Force has set a December 2016 target date to declare Initial Operating Capability (IOC) with the F-35A, the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter being acquired by Australia.
IOC for the F-35A will mean one operational squadron of 12 or more F-35As will be capable of conducting “basic close air support, interdiction, and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defense operations in a contested environment”, according to a USAF statement. A more complete mission set, plus a full weapons suite, will await the deployment of the production standard Block 3F software package, due in late 2017.
“The Air Force has spent the last six months looking at our initial capability requirements and the expected availability date. This announcement is exciting news for the Air Force,” Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said on May 31. “It highlights to members of Congress, our international partners, and the American public that the program is on track to bring the United States military and our allies this critical capability.”
The USAF will be the second US service to declare IOC for the F-35, following the US Marine Corps’ planned December 2015 IOC for a squadron of 12 F-35Bs. The US Navy, meanwhile, will wait until February 2019 before declaring IOC for the F-35C.
All three services had to notify Congress of their IOC plans for the F-35 by June 1.
In acknowledging the F-35 dates, prime contractor Lockheed Martin said in a statement: “We appreciate the confidence in the F-35 program expressed by the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy with the announcement of their Initial Operating Capability (IOC) dates today. Our top priority is to continue to execute our plan to support these IOC dates starting with the Marine Corps in December 2015. Lockheed Martin is committed to cost effectively delivering the F-35s unprecedented 5th generation capabilities to the warfighter.”