A F-35 Lightning II assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base takes off on 28 July 2015. (Image © Staff Sgt. Staci Miller / US Air Force)

US Air Force: “F-35 will immediately begin with close-air support”

Despite much criticism by experts and sources close to the development and testing of the jet that the F-35 isn’t ready for it yet, the US Air Force will field the new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II directly in the close-air support and enemy aircraft interception role when the first unit reaches Initial Operational Capability on 1 August 2016.

This statement comes from the director of the USAF’s F-35 Integration Office, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian. The general is eager sending the F-35s overseas, with US Central Command (CENTCOM) as the likely first operational user of the F-35 in the field. CENTCOM is responsible for US ops in Southwest Asia, North Africa and Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Currently the US Air Force flies 74 F-35As, with almost 20,000 flight hours flown by all Air Force Lightning II pilots combined. The first overseas deployment will likely be the strength of half a squadron (12 jets plus 2 reserve), with 24 to 30 pilots and about 250 ground crew and support personnel.

Most likely, the squadron will come from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, that recently saw delivery of the first ‘fully combat coded’ F-35s anywhere. One of the possible bases of operations for the first deployment include Al Udeid Air Base near Doha in Qatar.

Meanwhile, a critical report has emerged on tests earlier this year involving six United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35Bs aboard aircraft carrier USS Wasp. The tests were the final stage before declaration of the type’s Initital Operational Capability (IOC) in July, but as it emerges now, multiple maintenance and software issues plagued the tests, preventing completion of planned flight hours.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editors Marcel Burger and Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A F-35 Lightning II assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base takes off on 28 July 2015.
(Image © Staff Sgt. Staci Miller / US Air Force)