F-35A Looks A Lock For IOC OK; CAS As Good As F-16

Breaking Defense // July 27, 2016

All the boxes are ticked for the Air Force to declare the F-35A ready for combat.

The final clearance hasn’t been given by the man who will decide, Air Combat Command’s Gen. Hawk Carlisle, but he has received all the data on the planes, pilots and maintainers, said Lt. Col. Steven Anderson, 388th Maintenance Group deputy commander, in a call with reporters today from Hill Air Force Base. And Carlisle, of course, made it very clear at the Royal International Air Tattoo and at the Farnborough Air Show that he expected to declare Initial Operational Capability early in the planned window of August to December.

I asked about the F-35A’s Close Air Support capabilities, given how sensitive the issue on Capitol Hill as the Air Force continues to hope to return the aging and increasingly vulnerable A-10.

Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander, told me he was an F-16 pilot with four deployments to Iraq (CORRECTED: Was IRAN…Sigh) and Afghanistan, where he executed CAS missions on a regular basis.

“I would say we executed similarly to how the F-16 performed two years ago,” Watkins said. And this is before the F-35 can use the full range of CAS weapons, most importantly the Small Diameter Bomb II: That won’t come ’til the aircraft gets the 4F software in 2022. Regardless, the commander made clear he was confident in the F-35’s effectiveness as a CAS weapon within the strictures set out by the Air Force for this stage.

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