The head of the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command is hopeful that the service will declare initial operational capability (IOC) for its Lockheed Martin F-35A as early as August, following a successful first off-station deployment of the type.

Gen Herbert Carlisle told a media briefing at the Royal International Air Tattoo on 7 July that the USAF is “about to declare IOC” for 34 Sqn. He hopes that this will be towards the front of an August-to-December objective for achieving the milestone.

Carlisle says that even a 1 August objective is “not off the table”, adding: “I think we’ll be able to declare IOC at the front end of that window. But this is capability-based.”

While IOC is conditional on between 12 and 24 Block 3I-standard F-35As being declared mission-capable, the aircraft also must be deployable, with trained maintainers, and there needs to be some close air support capability.

“It’s going exceedingly well,” Carlisle says.

A recent key test of the F-35A involved deploying seven of the type from Hill AFB, Utah to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho in June, during which the aircraft were tested against key IOC parameters.

The Lightning IIs performed all of their 88 planned sorties, and dropped 15 of a planned 16 bombs on targets.

Supported by 181 personnel from Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing and reserve 419th Fighter Wing, the activity included a simulated deployment to test the F-35A’s ability to carry out basic close air support, aerial interdiction and limited suppression of enemy aircraft, which are criteria for achieving IOC.

F-35A pre-IOC Hill AFB test - USAF

US Air Force

Carlisle says that, following this, most of the work has already been carried out for IOC to be declared, with just “a few things to be worked on”, and mission planning verification to be carried out during July.

“We had a few software glitches in the radar, but the new software has been amazing,” he says. “The whole purpose of IOC is that if a combatant commander needed them, I could deploy them. We have a plan to get them to a deployed rotation, but they could be called upon if needed.”

Carlisle says the USAF’s F-35s will be deployed to the Middle East to support counter-insurgency operations there. A timeline for this still unknown, but is likely to be in the 2017-2018 period.