An F-35A Lightning II approaches a KC-135 Stratotanker during aerial refueling in May near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The initial cadre of Air Force F-35 instructor pilots at the 33rd Fighter Wing recently qualified in aerial refueling. (Master Sgt. John R. Nimmo Sr. / Air Force)
The Air Force’s F-35A joint strike fighter will finally reach its initial operational capability in December 2016, more than six years after the initial expected date, service officials said May 31.
When development began in 2001, initial operating capability was expected between 2010 and 2012. In the 2007 approved baseline, the capability was going to be 2012 to 2014 for the $39.6 billion program, according to a March Government Accountability Office report.
The Air Force will reach initial operating capability when its first squadron has 12 or more aircraft and airmen have the training and equipment to conduct missions, including close-air support, interdiction and limited suppression of enemy air defense operations.
The jet fighter has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, and Congress, in the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill, required the Air Force to notify lawmakers of the planned initial operating capability by June 1.
The third class of six F-35 pilots is set to graduate within weeks from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and that group will then set up a training center at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
Software delays have been the major delay in F-35 development, program director Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan recently told lawmakers.
F-35 program officials are “less than confident” the final software capability will be delivered on time in 2017, he said.