Air Force Says Lockheed F-35 Is Ready for Limited Combat Operations

A visitor takes a photograph of an F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp., on display at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition. (PHOTO CREDIT: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)
A visitor takes a photograph of an F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp., on display at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition. (PHOTO CREDIT: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

The U.S. Air Force declared its version of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 ready if needed for limited combat operations, a milestone for the $379 billion program that’s the Pentagon’s costliest.

The service’s announcement Tuesday that the combat jet has an “initial operational capability” reflects progress after early years marked by development setbacks and rising costs. But the F-35 is still in development, with flawed software among its biggest challenges, and won’t have full combat capability for at least another three years.

The Air Force announced the initial milestone at the start of a five-month period it had set aside to make the decision. Lockheed’s fortunes ride on the F-35, the biggest source of revenue for the world’s largest defense company. The advanced fighter accounted for 21 percent of Lockheed’s $12.9 billion net sales during the second quarter, according to a regulatory filing, and its impact should grow as the jet moves to full production.

“The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory, because it can go where our” older aircraft “cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield,” General Herb “Hawk” Carlisle, head of the Air Combat Command, said in a statement, referring to the Air Force version of the fighter.

The 15 aircraft declared operational on Tuesday can provide basic close-air support, Carlisle told reporters at the Pentagon. “We know that we will continue to add capability to this airplane just like we have with every airplane in the history of the Air Force,” said. “Some of the software is significantly improved, but there’s still things we are going to work on.”

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Anthony Capaccio