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First Operational F-35A Squadron Finishes IOC To-Do List

Defense News // July 27, 2016

The Air Force’s first F-35 squadron has completed all preparations necessary to declare the joint strike fighter combat capable, and sources say an initial operating capability declaration could be made early next week.

Twelve jets have received the modifications necessary for IOC, 21 combat-mission-ready pilots are available, and the maintenance infrastructure is ready to support the Hill Air Force Base’s 34th Fighter Squadron, said some of those operators on July 27. With paperwork filed, all that’s left is for Air Combat Command head Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle to sign off.

“We have achieved all our milestones,” said Lt. Col. Steven Anderson, deputy commander of the 388th Maintenance Group. Anderson, along with several other maintainers and pilots from Hill Air Force Base, spoke to reporters over a conference call. "We have submitted all of the data to ACC for General Carlisle's consideration on making that declaration."

Over the past couple of weeks, pilots at Hill finished up the last remaining items on its IOC checklist, said Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. For instance, the Air Force considers pilots “combat mission ready” only after he or she complete a certain number of training sorties during a 30- or 90-day period, so some operators had to conduct additional flights.

“As of today, we have 21 pilots combat mission ready based on the number of training sorties they've done in the last 30 days,” he said. “That was one thing that was yellow.”

They also went through “pilot verifications,” which Watkins described as similar to an oral examination. After doing an in-depth study of the F-35’s mission systems, tactics and potential threats, pilots briefed a panel, who then quizzed the pilots on a simulated mission.

The Air Force has laid out several requirements for declaring the F-35A ready for battle. It needs at least 12 combat-configured F-35As with enough trained pilots, maintainers and other personnel needed to support the jets. The aircraft must be deployable and able to conduct basic close-air support, air interdiction and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defense missions.

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