F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II Program
On 26 January 2012, the Department of Defense announced in a report on defense spending priorities for FY13 that it remained committed to a Joint Strike Fighter program of record that included all 3 variants, but favored slowed procurement to complete more testing and make developmental changes to minimize concurrency issues before buying any aircraft in significant quantities.
On 6 March 2012, the USAF launched its first test flight of the F-35A from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A potential fuel leak finding caused the precautionary end of the sortie at 15 minutes versus the 90 minutes scheduled to be airborne to complete the operational check flight. Pilots and maintainers were to meet to discuss the problem.
On 22 May 2013, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron Five Zero One (VMFAT-501) had celebrated their one-year anniversary of flying the F-35B Lightning II aircraft from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Since 22 May 2012, the unit had flown 833 local training sorties and logged more than 1,100 flight hours executing about 40 to 50 sorties a week. VMFAT-501 also hosted the first international pilots and maintainers imbedded at an F-35 training squadron. 14 maintainers and 2 pilots from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy had worked seamlessly with the unit in its year of operation. In addition, VMFAT-501 provided support to the operations by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron One Two One (VMFA-121) at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. VMFA-121 was the first operational fleet squadron anywhere in the world for the F-35 and was comprised of flyers and maintainers trained at Eglin. In May 2013, a pilot trained at Eglin made his first vertical landing at Yuma.
The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps delivered a joint report to congressional defense committees on 31 May 2013 to establish the date and details of the initial operational capability (IOC) of each service's variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as directed by the National Defense Authorization Act. Congress had directed the Secretary of the Air Force and Secretary of the Navy to provide a report that details the IOC dates, requirements, and capabilities for each of the F-35 variants by 1 June 2013. The Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy would achieve IOC once they acquired enough aircraft to establish one operational squadron with enough trained and equipped personnel to support the various missions prescribed by each service. Based on the F-35 Joint Program Office schedule at the time of the report, the Air Force F-35A was expected to reach the IOC milestone by December 2016, while the Marine Corps F-35B was expected to reach the IOC milestone by December 2015. F-35C, attached to Navy carrier air wings, would reach the IOC milestone by February 2019.
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