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
The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has completed development of F-35 software block 3i, the same software the US Air Force will use to declare Initial Operational Capability (IOC) later this year. The Block 3i software provides F-35s with initial combat capability on upgraded computer hardware.
Until last week, the F-35 program had flown more than 100 flight hours with the 3i software and according to a JPO statemrnt, it has shown approximately twice the level of stability as the previously fielded Block 2B software and three times better stability than the original 3i software.
The JPO will begin to upgrade the F-35 fleet (LRIP 6, 7, and 8 aircraft) with 3i software the week of 9 May. The same stability and mission effectiveness enhancements have also been incorporated into a new version of Block 2B software, for the benefit of earlier fleet aircraft.
The new version of 2B software will be used to start upgrading LRIP 2-5 aircraft by the end of May. The entire fleet of fielded F-35 aircraft will eventually be upgraded to these two new software versions by the end of 2016.
Concluding Block 2B and 3i development and testing now allows the F-35 program to focus on completing Block 3F – the software block that should provide full combat capability. The improvements to Block 2B and 3i have been transferred to Block 3F, and all developmental test aircraft and labs have been upgraded to Block 3F.
In a surprise move and repeating last year’s visit to Germany, US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors are seen in European skies again. Four jets arrived at Lakenheath airbase in the UK in the afternoon of Monday 11 April. The jets are here to conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft, said the US Air Force in a statement.
The advanced jets are deployed from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. They will continue training until May. In 2015, the first official deployment to Europe took place as four aircraft flew to Spangdahlem in Germany. They remained there for four weeks of flying in the European theater, venturing close to Russia while doing so.
The arrival of the Raptors in the UK comes as a surprise. Upon landing, their visit was first linked with a planned visit of F-22s later this month in France. On 20 April, the US Air Force’s most potent fighter aircraft is scheduled to participate in the 80th anniversary of French Air Force Escadron de Chasse (EC) 2/4, flying Mirages at Istres-Le Tubé airbase in southern France. It remains unclear of the aircraft expected in France, are the same jets now deployed to the UK.
The US last week also deployed F-15 Eagles to Europe. They take part in exercise Frisian Flag in the Netherlands, about which an inside report will appear here at Airheadsfly.com very soon. The F-15s will stay in Europe for six months as part of a Theater Security Package.
The F-22 however is a seldom seen sight in Europe. Raptors have on rare occasions used the UK and Spain as stop overs to destinations elsewhere.
Jordan is offering fifteen used but serviceable F-16A/B Midlife Update (MLU) models in a move that seems strange in the light of the pending arrival of… fifteen very similar F-16 MLU models previously operated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). The Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) aircraft are offered on the air force’s website.
The Jordanian offer comes complete with a list of the actual aircraft for sale. They are all jets that orginally flew with the US Air Force in the eighties an nineties and were delivered to Jordan under the Peace Falcon II contract from 2003 onwards. Prior to 2009, all were updated to MLU standard in Turkey.
Airframe hours range from 4,600 to 6,000 hours and some phase inspections were completed as late as December 2015 and even January 2016. The jets underwent the Falcon UP and Falcon STAR structural upgrades as well, extending projected service lifes to about 8,000 hours.
Jordan has a habit of purchasing used F-16s while at the same time selling aircraft of the same type. Pakistan received a batch of former RJAF F-16s, the first of which arrived in Pakistan in April 2014. In turn, disused Belgian and Dutch F-16s found their ways to Jordan before, some of which were used for Jordan’s contribution in the fight against so-called Islamic State in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
It would be no surprise if Pakistan snatches up Jordan’s latest F-16 offer as well, although Islamabad also eyes a small batch of brand new and more advanced F-16C/D jets from Lockheed Martin.
The current Jordanian F-16 fleet is estimated to be around 64 aircraft-strong. The second batch of used Dutch aircraft should find its way to the Middle Eastern country soon. The aircraft are currently being prepared for transfer in the Netherlands.
The US Air Force has selected Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska as a future home for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The base will house two squadrons equipped with the 5th generation fighter aircraft. Alaska, the only US state that borders Russia, already is home to F-22 Raptor jets at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.
“The decision to base two F-35 squadrons at Eielson AFB will double our fifth-generation fighter aircraft presence in the Pacific theater,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “It’s an exciting time for Pacific airpower.”
On-base construction to prepare Eielson airbase for the aircraft is expected to start in fiscal year 2017. The first F-35As are currently scheduled to arrive in 2020. The jets will join the F-16 aggressor squadron currently assigned to Eielson AFB.
In a press release, the move is described as leading to the “first operational overseas F-35A Lightning IIs”. That would mean the Eielson-based aircraft are to be mission ready before the F-35s that are projected to be based at Lakenheath airbase in the UK, another overseas US airbase planned to operate F-35s in the future.
Meanwhile, the first Air National Guard base to host F-35s, will do so earlier than originally planned. Burlington Air Guard Station in Vermont is now scheduled to receive aircraft in fall 2019.