F-35A Ready for Action in the Pacific if Necessary, SecAF Says // August 28, 2017

The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is ready and poised to go to the Pacific — or any theater, for that matter — should tensions escalate with North Korea, the Air Force‘s top civilian said Friday.

“We now just passed 100,000 flying hours with the F-35, and it is doing very well and in any contingency, if there were a problem, they’re ready to go — ready to go to combat,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

While she didn’t speak to potential overseas rotation schedules for the Air Force’s version of the stealthy fifth-generation fighter, she said “everything is on track” for identifying more stateside bases to house more of the aircraft rolling off Lockheed Martin Corp.’s production line.

The secretary’s comments come at a time when North Korea continues to threaten and challenge the U.S. Both President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis recently indicated they’d be willing to respond with military force should North Korea launched any missile at Guam, where the U.S. maintains air and naval bases.

Earlier this month, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un threatened to launch a salvo of four missiles that would splash down in waters within 25 miles of the U.S. territory of Guam. U.S. President Donald Trump responded with a Tweet that said the country is “locked and loaded” for a conflict with North Korea.

The U.S. military has since repeatedly sent B-1B supersonic bombers and South Korean fighter jets in a show of force near the demilitarized zone. Meanwhile, the Air Force’s F-35A has yet to make its debut in the Pacific theater. (The Marine Corps this year deployed a squadron of F-35Bs to Iwakuni, Japan.)

In April, the Air Force dispatched a handful of F-35As overseas to Europe for several weeks in the aircraft’s first training deployment to the continent.

In recent months, service officials said they plan to rotate a “theater security package” of F-35As to the Asia-Pacific region. Such a rotation includes forward-deployed aircraft and units that conduct missions across the continent over six months to reassure allies.

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