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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Deployment

There are a number of criteria that must be met in terms of capabilities and performance to become IOC. The requirements, established in 2013, include 12-24 aircraft with trained and equipped Airman for basic close air support, interdiction and limited SEAD/DEAD in a contested environment and operating from a deployed location. To support those operations we need the proper logistics and operational elements in place, including having the proper personnel, equipment and appropriate technical manuals. As of mid-2016 the forecast was that the Air Force would have more than 12 aircraft. There are currently 12 aircraft available at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Some of those were going through the last few modifications required to support IOC. Additional aircraft would enter in the modification process beginning in August. Depending on the actual IOC date, modifications may be complete on the additional F-35s.

As of June 2014, 78 aircraft had been fielded, were flying, and were being maintained at Eglin Air Force Base, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Edwards Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base, and Luke Air Force Base. The program had achieved about 18,250 cumulative flight hours for the fleet of aircraft.

F-35s were flying at eight operating locations in 2015: Edwards Air Force Base, California, Eglin AFB, Florida, Hill AFB, Utah, Luke AFB, Arizona, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, MCAS Yuma, Arizona, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and Nellis AFB, Nevada. Jets are also flown at two F-35 depot locations at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, and the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill AFB, Utah. Flight hours were also recorded at the two F-35 production facilities at Cameri, Italy, and Fort Worth, Texas. To date, more than 250 F-35 pilots and 2,400 aircraft maintainers from six nations were trained and more than 110 jets are jointly under construction at both production facilities.

F-35 Lightning II aircraft operating at 12 different locations worldwide surpassed the 50,000 flight hour mark in February 2016. The first flight hour was achieved by an F-35B aircraft, BF-01, June 1, 2008. The 25,000 flight hour milestone occurred in December 2014, six years and six months later. As a sign of program growth and maturity, the second 25,000 flight hours were reached only one year and two months later.

The F-35 program continues to grow and accelerate as we complete additional flight testing and increase deliveries to our U.S. and partner warfighters, said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 Joint Program Executive Officer. The next 50,000 hours will be achieved much quicker as we double the size of the F-35 fleet worldwide in the next three years alone.

Flight hours are divided into two main categories: Operational flying hours, flown by 155 jets delivered to six different nations, and System Development and Demonstration (SDD) flight test hours, flown by 18 aircraft assigned to the Integrated Test Forces at Edwards AFB, and NAS Pax River. Of the 50,000 hours, operational jets flew approximately 37,950 hours while SDD aircraft flew 12,050 hours. More than one third of the programs flight hours were flown in 2015 alone. Among the three variants, approximately 26,000 hours were flown by the F-35A, 18,000 hours by the F-35B and 6,000 by the F-35C.

Plans called for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to get its first overseas deployment in 2017 to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Air Force F-35s probably would head to four bases: Misawa, Japan; Kadena, Japan; Osan Air Base, Korea; and Kunsan Air Base, Korea.

F-35A Air Force

The commander of Air Combat Command would make the IOC decision in direct consultation with the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. It is a capabilities-based decision, with input received from units assigned to operational testing and evaluation at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and Edwards Air Force Base, California. There were no known technical issues that would prevent the Air Force from reaching IOC in our August-December timeframe. The F-35 deployed from Hill to Mountain Home where crews, maintenance and support personnel conducted a number of missions. During that deployment, crews attained a 100 percent sortie generation rate with 88 of 88 planned sorties and a 94 percent hit rate with 15 of 16 bombs on target. These numbers provided a positive indication of stability and component performance.

The 09 September 2013 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for United States Air Force F-35A Operational Basing analyzes the Air Force proposal to base F-35A aircraft at one or more alternative locations. The alternatives analyzed in this EIS include:

  • Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS), Vermont*
  • Hill Air Force Base (AFB), Utah*
  • Jacksonville AGS, Florida
  • McEntire Joint National Guard Base (JNGB), South Carolina
  • Mountain Home AFB, Idaho
  • Shaw AFB, South Carolina

For the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve locations, the EIS analyzed three basing (e.g., beddown) alternatives that include 18 or 24 F-35A Primary Aircraft Authorized (PAA) that would replace existing complement of fighter attack aircraft. For the active duty locations, the EIS analyzes three beddown alternatives that include 24, 48, or 72 F-35A PAA. At Burlington AGS, Hill AFB, Jacksonville AGS, McEntire JNGB, and Shaw AFB, the F-35As would replace current fighter attack aircraft, irrespective of the alternative basing location. No existing aircraft would be replaced at Mountain Home AFB.

Hill Air Force Base was selected in 2013 as the new home for the Air Force's first operational F-35A Lightning IIs. Hill AFB is also home to the F-35 depot, which provides fleet maintenance support, a key factor to the long term sustainment and readiness of the F-35A fleet. Another strength of Hill AFB is the already established classic association between the 388th Fighter Wing (active duty) and the 419th Fighter Wing (reserve). This Total Force Integrated unit is capable of providing accelerated seasoning of new personnel to maximize the F-35A's advanced capabilities.

The F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter aircraft was declared 'combat ready' by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, 02 August 2016. Carlisle lauded the aircraft's performance, noting that the aircraft had met all key criteria for reaching initial operational capability: Airmen trained, manned and equipped to conduct basic close air support, interdiction and limited suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses in a contested environment with an operational squadron of 12-24 aircraft; the ability to deploy and conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems; and having all necessary logistics and operational elements in place.

The 34th Fighter Squadron of the 388th Fighter Wing, based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is the service's first operational F-35A squadron, having met all the established criteria for initial operational capability including a successful June 2016 deployment to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and a series of eight-aircraft sorties held in mid-July 2016. 34th FS Airmen will fly and maintain the F-35A alongside Air Force Reservists from Hill's 419th Fighter Wing.

The F-35 Lightning II program took another step forward 26 August 2016 when the Air Force's 100th F-35, designated AF-100, arrived at Luke Air Force Base following the recent announcement of the fifth-generation jet fighter's initial operational capability. Lukereceived its first F-35 in March 2014 and developed the training and tactics for the program. The fleet had since grown to more than 40 F-35s at the base, including those of partner nations such as Australia and Norway. The base also recently activated its third F-35 unit -- the 63rd Fighter Squadron.

F-35B Marine Corps

On July 31, 2015 the Marine Corps declared that a squadron of 10 F-35B Lightning II aircraft is ready for worldwide deployment. The Marines declaration of initial operational capability for its squadron of F-35Bs marks a significant milestone in the continued evolution of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall said.

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, Kendall continued. This achievement is a testament to the efforts of the F-35 Joint Program Office and industry team, as well as the hard work and support from the Marine Corps.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, or VMFA-121, based in Yuma, Arizona, was the first squadron in military history to become operational with an F-35 variant, following a five-day operational readiness inspection, which concluded July 17.

VMFA-121 had ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship, Dunford continued. It is capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance as part of a Marine air-ground task force, or in support of the joint force.

Two AV-8B Harrier II squadrons would be the next to transition to the F-35B. Marine Attack Squadron 211 was scheduled to transition in fiscal year 2016, and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 311 would conduct its transition in 2018.

F-35C Navy

The Department of the Navy, after weighing the strategic, operational, and environmental consequences of the proposed action, decided in October 2014 to base the F-35C aircraft at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California. a total of 100 F-35C aircraft in seven Navy Pacific Fleet squadrons (10 aircraft per squadron) and the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) (30 aircraft) would be based at NAS Lemoore beginning in 2016. The proposed action would be completed in the 2028 timeframe.

The 100 F-35C aircraft would replace 70 aging FA-18 Hornet aircraft. As a result, aircraft based at NAS Lemoore would gradually increase by a total of 30 aircraft by 2028. Although this action calls for an increase of 30 aircraft based at NAS Lemoore, the FA-18C FRS with 30 aircraft assigned was disestablished in 2013. When the FRS for the F-35C is operational (in about 2018), the number of aircraft based at NAS Lemoore would be similar to 2013 levels. There would be no changes in aircraft based at Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro, California. Basing the F-35C at NAS Lemoore would result in an increase of about 68,400 operations per year at NAS Lemoore and an increase of about 800 operations per year at NAF El Centro.




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