Following the Marines’ announcement this summer that the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter Program could be close to combat readiness, the Air Force also announced this week that the fighter jets could be ready to deploy overseas in 2016.
According to the Air Force Times:
The F-35 could deploy overseas as soon as it reaches initial operating capability in 2016, said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, director of the Air Force’s F-35 Integration Office.
“When you’re at CENTCOM, you don’t request a specific jet, you request the capability,” Harrigian said Monday at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference. “When we declare IOC, the F-35 will be on the list of capabilities that will be available.”
The decision of when F-35s will be deployed lies with Gen. Hawk Carlisle, who leads Air Combat Command, Harrigian said.
The service is still on pace to field a squadron of F-35s by the IOC goal of Aug. 1, 2016, Harrigian said, adding that it would likely include between 12 and 14 aircraft, 30 pilots and 240 maintainers and support personnel.
The first squadron will start off with three missions, Harrigian said: close air support, interdiction of enemy aircraft, and suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses.
“At the end of the day, this is ensuring that we bring to the warfighter a capability that’s a modern capability that allows us to enter into those contested arenas,” he said.
The Air Force currently has 74 F-35As, Harrigian said, and pilots have a combined 19,500 flight hours. Across the entire program for all services, more than 2,000 service members are trained as maintainers.