The newest and most controversial aircraft in US inventory may be deployed on combat missions later this year if requested, according to the general responsible for determining whether or not the plane is “combat ready.”
According to Bloomberg Tech, USAF Air Combat Command General Herb “Hawk” Carlisle said the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II could be sent out if regional commanders in America’s various war zones request it.
“The minute I declare initial operational capability, if the combatant commander calls me up and says they needed F-35s, I would send them,” Carlisle told reporters following a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
US Air Force officials are currently trying to determine whether or not the F-35 will be combat operational this year and are currently evaluating data in order to make that decision, which may come as early as August 5th.
An expensive aircraft with over 8 million lines of software code (and lots of growing pains), the F-35 comes in several variants to meet each military branch’s specific requirements. The USAF version (F-35A) can currently internally carry two 2,000 lb GPS-guided bombs, two 500 lb laser-guided munitions and two air-to-air missiles. The F-35A is also equipped with the 4-barrel GAU-22/A cannon, which is loaded with 182 rounds of 25mm ammunition. Lastly, there are six external pylons on the wings that have a load capacity of 15,000 lbs.
The Lightning II has a projected cost of $379 billion for 2,443 aircraft, making it the costliest US weapons system to date- as well as one of the most criticized.
In addition to potential combat missions, Carlisle says he’s hoping to have F-35s airborne around the world within the next 18 months, as both a proof-of-concept and show of force.
“As soon as I get them operational I’d like to do that with the F-35s as well, to demonstrate that I can move those airplanes anywhere I need to as rapidly as I can to support combatant commanders’ needs,” he said. “Whether it’s in a peacetime training environment, messaging to potential adversaries or if we ever had to, in the face of conflict.”
The F-35 will be going against the USAF’s usual practice of keeping a new aircraft out of harm’s way for a few years after production. It’s older -and arguably more loved- brother, the F-22, waited nine years before flying combat missions against actual targets.
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