US Air Force finally declares F-35 'combat ready'
Iran Press TV
Wed Aug 3, 2016 6:0PM
The US Air Force has finally announced its first squadron of F-35 fighter jets "combat ready," marking a major milestone for the much-maligned project 15 years into its development.
The declaration was signed by Air Combat Command (ACC) head General Herbert Carlisle on Monday, allowing the USAF to assign its first operational F-35 squadron to combat operations across the world.
The Air Force had five months, beginning from August 1, to confirm the stealth fighter's operational capability. The US Marine Corps declared its own squadron capable of combat in July last year.
Despite the announcement, Carlisle said in a news briefing on Tuesday that the $379 billion program is not perfect and there are still problems that need to be ironed out before the USAF can proceed with its plans to purchase a total of 1,763 F-35As over the next years.
Initially launched in 2001, the costly program has been delayed due to many software bugs and dissatisfactory performances. The jet has also blown out its budget by nearly 70 percent.
According to J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester, the mostly software-driven jet has been crippled by critical software bugs that cause its systems to reboot, making the F-35 unable to take off.
A fuel system deficiency, faulty diagnostic systems, cracks in wing spars, lack of high-fidelity simulators for combat missions, and a pilot escape system that could break an ejecting pilot's neck were among the problems that Gilmore cited for the jet, which is known as the world's most expensive weapon.
In January, the jet was trashed in a mock dogfight with an 80's era F-16D warplane.
US Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program chief, said the announcement "sends a simple and powerful message to America's friends and foes alike – the F-35 can do its mission."
He had said in late may that the jet has faced more delays in initial operational testing and will not come any sooner than 2018.
US military officials have pledged to drive down F-35's unit price to $85 million per plane by 2019, in a bid to attract more buyers.
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