The U.S. Air Force says it will have an initial squadron of F-35 fighters ready for combat by the end of 2016. The commanders of the USAF's Air Combat Command and Air Force Materiel Command reviewed the milestones in the $379 billion weapons program last week and reported their findings to the Pentagon.
There are lingering doubts that the development of the plane's computer logistics system, called Autonomic Logistics Information System, was on schedule. The complex system, according to military planners, required extra "focus" for the program.
"The actual plane is on schedule and doing well," Colonel Tad Sholtis, spokesman for Air Combat Command, told reporters on April 13. "The Air Force expects to meet its target window of August through December for declaring an initial operational capability."
The Air Force says the F-35's performance exceeds expectations of pilots, but that they are continuing to compare the fighter to other, older aircraft. Sholtis added that the fighter was strong in some areas and less strong in other, but only by fielding the plane to familiarize airmen with the plane and its workings could they fully exploit the F-35's capabilities.
"We anticipate that side-by-side, air-to-air and air-to-ground tests will be illustrative of the fifth generation fighter's advanced interdiction capabilities," Sholtis said. "This aircraft is built to go where legacy platforms cannot."