Sixteen years after it was first conceived, a decade after it was initially rolled out, and a year after the United States Marine Corps broke the news that the initial squadron of the Lockheed Martin F- 35 in their care has passed testing, it was the Air Force’s turn to declare that their own squadron of the long-in- development and astonishingly expensive aircraft they have been putting through paces has finally been cleared as combat-ready.
CNN reports that the F-35A Lightning, the Air Force variant of the touted Joint Strike Fighter program, has been sufficiently developed, tested and revamped and was now at Initial Operating Capability (IOC), clearing it to fly combat missions.
Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, describes the F-35A as the most dominant aircraft currently in the military inventory, able to go where its predecessors cannot and provide new capabilities for the modern battlefield. "I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,"he said.
The test squadron’s ability in performing close air support, suppressing and destroying enemy air defenses, and deploying on operations using programmed weapon and system records was noted favorably by Carlisle. Its IOC designation comes across as a bright ray of light for a weapons program that has taken years of constant refinement and expenditures of up to $400 billion. The F-35 project executive officer, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, had released his own statement on the IOC designation, declaring that the Air Force, at over 1,700 units, will get to field the largest fleet of the new Lightning, which will then serve as the backbone of American air superiority.
While in concept the Joint Strike Fighter program, of which Lockheed Martin’s F-35 has been the winning design, is seen as the new high standard for the world’s military aircraft, it has also been slammed by critics of more armed forces expenditure as a taxpayer sink, beset with chronic hardware foul-ups and multiple software bugs that has delayed development by three years and surpassed its starting budget by more than $200 billion.
It’s therefore no surprise that the Air Force announcement was met with a tangible skepticism, especially from government watchdog groups. The fact that the Pentagon is projected to invest up to $1 trillion annually to keep the F-35s in fighting form throughout their service has raised eyebrows.
Nevertheless, the mark of combat certification by the Air Force is another step to finally getting Lockheed Martin’s design into the sky and over the battlefields of future conflicts.
In addition to the United States, the F-35 has been ordered by the militaries of 10 other countries like the UK, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
And perhaps the similarly long-in- development sequel to Tom Cruise’s 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun”, of which the F-35 has been touted to take equal star billing, can finally commence filming.
Photo Credit to www.airforce-technology.com