On 13 September 2013 this F-35A Lightning II became the first ever to at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The aircraft from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron underwent post-production modifications at the Ogden Air Logistics Complex. (Image © Alex R. Lloyd / US Air Force)

US Air Force declares first F-35s ‘operational’

The US Air Force on Tuesday 2 August declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for its very first squadron of F-35A Lightning II jets, situated at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The declaration follows a period of extensive training for the squadron and comes one year after the United States Marine Corps (USMC) declared IOC for its F-35Bs.

The 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill is now the world’s first operational F-35A squadron, flying ‘combat-coded’ aircraft running on the latest software block. The unit consist of 12 aircraft and 21 pilots, plus many support personnel. The first Lightning II arrived at Hill in September 2013.

Wether the squadron will soon make use of its IOC and deploy for operations abroad remains to be seen. Critics are quick to point out that the advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 is far from ready for actual combat. For exampe, the internal gun is still being tested at Edwards Air Force Base.

US Air Force tops brass however recently hinted to a deployment to Europe perhaps in 2017. That year, the USMC will first deploy its F-35Bs to Japan