The U.S. military plans to begin fielding the new, stealthy F-35 Lightning II fighter jet in about two-and-a-half years, the Pentagon announced May 31.
The Marine Corps will go first, achieving an initial operational capability (IOC) by December 2015 with at least 10 aircraft. The Air Force will follow, attaining an IOC in December 2016 with at least 12 jets. Finally, the Navy will have its first operational squadron ready by February 2019.
“Today’s IOC announcement from the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy demonstrates the confidence they have in the F-35 program and the capabilities it will bring to the warfighter,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer. “I believe the aircraft design and technological capabilities of the F-35 are sound and the Joint Program Office will deliver on our commitments to meet service timelines.”
The IOC information is contained in a new report required by Congress.
The three services are developing variants to meet their unique needs: the conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35A for the Air Force, the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing F-35B for the Marines, and the carrier variant F-35C for the Navy. The $400-billion program, whose prime contractor is Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, has been restructured over the past three years to try to fix cost, schedule and performance problems.
All three variants are undergoing flight testing. Eight other countries are participating in the F-35’s development: the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
SUBSCRIBE!. To receive future articles by this writer, click “Subscribe” above. Follow him on Twitter.