The F-35B has reached operational capacity and is combat ready, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford in a statement Friday.
A 10-aircraft squadron can now deploy anywhere in the world, a day which many have long-waited for, given a history of delays and cost overruns. The concept of the F-35 was first outlined about 18 years ago, and with the latest announcement, the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 from Arizona counts as the first operational F-35 squadron in the world. Several variants are in development for different services. The F-35B was developed specifically for use by the Marine Corps.
“Prior to declaring IOC, we have conducted flight operations for seven weeks at sea aboard an L-Class carrier, participated in multiple large force exercises, and executed a recent operational evaluation which included multiple live ordnance sorties,” said Dunford. “The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our Nation with its first 5th generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win.”
In preparation the Marine Corps has trained 50 pilots which will be supported by 500 maintenance personnel.
“The U.S. Marine Corps’ declaration of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) marks a significant milestone in the continued evolution of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program,” Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in a statement. “The decision was made following a thorough Operational Readiness Inspection which assessed the Marine Corps’ ability to employ this complex weapon system in an operational environment.”
Eventually, the F-35 will replace the F/A-18 Hornet, the AV-8B and the EA-6B.
Several days ago, Air Force Secretary Deborah James noted that the aircraft has “taken us too long [and] has cost us way more money than we ever imagined possible.” The Air Force is set to receive the F-35A in 2016 followed by the Navy’s F-35C in 2019.
Immediately after the announcement broke, skeptical observers took to Twitter to criticize the Marine Corp’s use of the word deployment. Technically, the first squadron of F-35Bs aren’t scheduled for deployment until 2017 when they’ll land in Iwakuni, Japan.
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