The commander of Air Combat Command was bullish about the upcoming declaration of initial operational capability for the F-35A, telling reporters on the first day of the Farnborough International Airshow that it could happen as early as August or as late as December.
"IOC, we always use that term," Air Force Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle said. "It really means those airplanes are ready for combat. They are ready to be in combat and ready to move forward."
The Air Force remains committed to its target of buying 1,763 of the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the 5th-generation fighter, Carlisle said.
A June "deployment" of seven aircraft to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, was declared a success by the Air Force after the planes completed all 88 planned sorties.Carlisle said the deployment involved about 180 personnel and gave the service the chance to test out the ability of the F-35's Autonomous Logistics Information System, or ALIS, to function in a deployed environment.
Some software issues are still being worked out as the aircraft approaches its final stages of testing and development.
Carlisle said the Air Force was still working with contractor Pratt & Whitney to incorporate propulsion information from the F-35A into the complex software.
The program executive officer for the F-35 Joint Program Office, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, said airmen must currently manually input that information into the ALIS system each time the aircraft touches down.
"In the next six months or so, we will integrate that information directly into the ALIS system," he said.
So how does the F-35 compare with the Air Force's other fifth-generation tactical fighter, the F-22 Raptor, also manufactured by Lockheed Martin?
That’s theater- and scenario-dependent, Carlisle said.
"The F-35 is the best air-to-air airplane in the world, except for the F-22," he said. "The F-22 is the best air-to-ground aircraft in the world except for the F-35."
The Air Force is also looking to apply lessons learned from the cutting-edge F-35 to the slightly older Raptor, he said.
"If you talked about shared technology, modernization, ability to maintain the [low observable technology] qualities of it, the F-35 is newer and it is better in that respect," Carlisle said.
Three F-35A aircraft crossed the Atlantic last week to appear at the Royal International Air Tattoo in England, which represented the first appearance of the platform in the U.K.