After years of development plagued with technical delays, the fifth-generation fighter made its first appearance at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in June.
Last month, a House Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee congressional field heading at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force scrutinized both the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II to meet future U.S. air warfare needs with the fifth-generation fighters. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, is chairman of the subcommittee.
The F-35 is a flying computer, with more than 8 million lines of software code. At a projected cost of $379 billion for a fleet of 2,443 aircraft, it’s also the costliest U.S. weapon system and one of the most closely scrutinized.
Carlisle said there are no known technical issues preventing a so-called IOC declaration.
The Air Force doesn’t have a recent track record of deploying combat planes in missions so soon after a combat capability is declared. The B-1B bomber, for example, first flew missions in December 1998 against an Iraqi Republican Guard target, about 12 years after it was declared ready. Lockheed’s F-22 stealth fighter flew its first combat missions in September 2014 against Islamic State targets, about nine years after it was deemed combat-ready.
Aside from the potential for a combat mission by a few planes, Carlisle said that within the next 18 months he’s likely to fly F-35s on no-notice deployments to Europe and the Pacific as a message to allies and adversaries.
“We need to” demonstrate “this rapid ability to move airplanes” when the U.S. doesn’t have jets permanently based in a location. In April, the Air Force flew 12 F-22 fighters without warning to Lakenheath, England, from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida for a training mission, he said.
“As soon as I get them operational I’d like to do that with the F-35s as well, to demonstrate that I can move those airplanes anywhere I need to as rapidly as I can to support combatant commanders’ needs — whether it’s in a peacetime training environment, messaging to potential adversaries or if we ever had to, in the face of conflict.”
Staff writer Barrie Barber contributed to this story.