The celebration of the Air Force variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reaching initial operational capability continued Friday with a ceremony replete with dignitaries at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where 15 F-35s were declared combat-ready this week.
The crowd in attendance included Utah Gov. Gary Herbert; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein; the head of Air Combat Command, Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle; and other top Air Force brass.
The commander of Hill's 388th Fighter Wing, Brad Lyons, touted the accomplishments of the F-35A variant, saying the aircraft had performed even better than hoped in recent testing.
The now-operational F-35As will be assigned to Hill's 34th Fighter Squadron, out of the 388th Fighter Wing, and maintained with support from the 419th Fighter Wing.
Lyons noted that the F-35A had completed 88 out of 88 successful sorties at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, in June and dropped 15 out of 16 bombs on target. In the F-35 spinup program, he said, the aircraft had achieved 39 direct hits out of 40 munitions deployed.
"Of the F-35, I can say unequivocally we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what this airplane will be able to do in the future," he said. "Make no mistake: It is extremely capable today. But it's going to be an absolute monster in the years to come. I wouldn't want to face it on the battlefield. As a commander of airmen, I am comfortable and confident sending my fighters downrange to fly, fight and win in this aircraft."
Lyons praised the hard work done by those involved with preparing the aircraft for IOC.
"The last time I stood here, I asked you to tighten your chinstraps and get to work," he said. "Today, I want to say loud and clear to our airmen, for both our friends and adversaries to hear: You delivered."
Carlisle said Monday he expects to see the F-35A deployed to the European and Pacific theaters within the next 18 months.