USAF and Navy F-35s Could Deploy Before IOC Dates

So there’s been much fretting lately (well for years, actually) about the prospect of increased cost growth and schedule delays for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program despite the definite up-tick in its flight testing. The plane’s initial operating capability dates which basically dictate when the jet will be able to perform basic combat missions have been pushed more than two years to beyond 2016 for the Navy and Air Force. This delay causes a host of headaches that we won’t get into here, but lets just say a lot of people were planning on having the F-35 replace their aging jets before 2016, now they’ve got to figure out how to keep those planes flying; in some cases, past their service lives, an ever more expensive task.

One of the key features for the Navy and Air Force in determining the jet’s ability to execute missions is the integration of the Block 3 operating software which contains thousands of lines of code for mostly classified combat capabilities. Now, Air Force and Navy officials are saying that they may deploy the jets in combat before that software is installed.

From Defense News:

“If the combatant commander said, ‘bring me this capability,’ then we clearly would provide it,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the service’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements.

The Navy’s director of warfare integration, Rear Adm. David Philman, who was also testifying, concurred.

“I don’t see any reason we wouldn’t be able to be told to go into theater, assuming all the safety considerations have been taken care of,” he said.

Both the Navy and the Air Force would have some number of the aircraft prior to any IOC date, but the specifics of how many planes would be available is not yet known.

“We will have a number, probably on the order of a 100, airplanes delivered to operational units before we declare Initial Operational Capability,” Carlisle said. “Clearly, although we may not declare IOC, we’ll be training, we’ll be doing the tactics, training and procedures with the Block 2.”

Keep in mind, the Marines planned on declaring IOC with their F-35Bs (and now Cs, too) with Block 2 software since the jet will still be a very potent fighter compared to many existing planes. The Corps’ IOC date has been bumped two to three years to 2014 or 2015.

This means the planes won’t formally have all their combat capability but they’ll still be flying missions around the world and potentially seeing combat. This means the pilots and ground crews will be gaining valuable experience operating the jets and Lockheed’s customers can start retiring their older fighters. As one of the last paragraph in the Defense News story says, maintaining the IOC dates based on the Block 3 software’s readiness may simply be a tactic to keep Lockheed hustling, not necessarily a reflection of the jet’s ability to perform in combat.

Insisting on the Block 3 configuration allows the Pentagon to keep the pressure on Lockheed Martin, the contractor that builds the F-35.

“I’ll be perfectly frank: In a lot of cases, if you delay an IOC, you can maintain pressure on a contractor,” Carlisle said.

Still, I’d like to know more about the safety considerations the Rear Adm. Philman was talking about. Was he talking about basic maintenance and flight procedures or was he talking about enemy threats to the stealthy jet?



12 Comments on "USAF and Navy F-35s Could Deploy Before IOC Dates"

  1. Combat would be one hell of a place to discover your software has a glitch.

  2. Look, you don't put off a computer purchase just because a new version of office is coming out next year. You base your buying decisions on what the computer and its software capabilities have today and what it means to today's needs. You can always go out and update the software later. Seriously this is a good thing that they are doing. They are finally making rational choices in the planes development.

  3. that is a cool photo, are those twin 2000 lbs jdams?

  4. It was the F-22 deploying to Japan. They had to postpone until the glitch was fixed.

  5. the F-35 will not have a chance against the J-20 or Pak T-50 as they will be able to carry 8 to 10 AAMs internally with a longer range than the AIM120 D as the weapon bays are larger. There is presently no funding to increase the internal AAM load of the F-35 to 6 missiles. A new larger than the F-22 platform is needed in order for the US to have some shot at air superiority in 2020 and beyond. What a strategic blunder to put all bets on the F-35. I hope a President Romney totally replaces the USAF leadership, but we will see.

  6. All variants of the F-35 are ready to production as the only thing stopping Lockheed Martin from going into full production rate is the Obama Administration as they can fix the glitches with fuel mixtures effecting range and other computer software later, as pilots of the US Air Force, Navy and Marines can begin the learning curve now and like with the F-22 Raptor, they can hold off into entering military action until all the glitches are worked out as the price will only continue to climb especially with inflation being what it is.

  7. I think modifying the F-35 to carry 6 internal AAMs would be pretty easy compared to the other aspects of the plane that are coming on line, like the AESA, STOVL capability, the EO-DAS, and the yet unresolved HMD. Indeed, adding things like lasers would provide an unlimited air to air load-out (assuming its not too cloudy, LOL). Not worried about the funding, but the USAF and USN need to decide they want the capability somewhat before they actually need it.

  8. The inference may actually mean Red Flag type combat environment and not real-world combat theater missions. This would be the logical progression (i.e., F-22 path to IOC).

  9. I just read that the F-35 will continue to be built and deployed at the cost of a reduction of military forces. Why? We never use the planes we have now. just another way for the decision makers to get rich.

  10. Rich Williams | May 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply

    Just another excessively expensive fly-boy toy. How many adversary aircraft have we had to deal with in the last few “wars”? What a colossal waste of our taxpayers money… Get some common sense!

  11. Yeah—my house has never been robbed. What a waste to own a gun. i'm such an idiot.

  12. Funny. We didn’t need the A-bomb until Russia and Germany were building one. Russ never fired one all those years. I guess we can throw all of ours away now. Wake up people.

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