Recently unveiled slips in development schedule for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter means the jet's initial operational capability date will likely be further delayed, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said today.
The Pentagon has added billions of dollars to the program and extended the development phase of the plane through 2016 while slowing purchases of the jet. All of this means a delay to the Air Force's IOC date is "implied," said Donley during an Air Force Association-sponsored breakfast in Arlington, Va.
The Air Force's current IOC date for the jet is 2016, a target that was put in place following last years' restructuring of the F-35 program.
The extended development of the F-35 also means the air service will continue with plans to extend the lives of of its F-16 fleet. The Air Force is figuring out how much of the fleet will be modernized, when and what kind of modifications will be done "rather than if" they should occur, said Donley.
Meanwhile, the service is working on making its new long-range bomber program an official program of record following months of discussions with DoD brass and analysis of alternatives for the program.
While Donley couldn't reveal any more than is already known about the bomber, he said the service may be able to discuss it in more depth when the congressional "hearing cycle" begins. He added that Air Force officials are working to figure out which details of the program will remain classified and which can be shared.
For now, all we know is that the plane will be: stealthy and able to penetrate almost any air defenses; optionally-manned; and able to perform nuclear missions all while being designed and built with existing technologies to allow the service to buy large numbers of them in time to replace the B-52 and B-1 fleets.