An anonymous reader quotes a report from Defense News: The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday declared its first squadron of F-35As ready for battle, 15 years after Lockheed Martin won the contract to make the plane. The milestone means that the service can now send its first operational F-35 formation — the 34th Fighter Squadron located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah — into combat operations anywhere in the world. The service, which plans to buy 1,763 F-35As, is the single-largest customer of the joint strike fighter program, which also includes the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and a host of governments worldwide. “Given the national security strategy, we need it,” [Air Combat Command (ACC) head Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle] said. “You look at the potential adversaries out there, or the potential environments where we have to operate this airplane, the attributes that the F-35 brings — the ability to penetrate defensive airspace, the ability to deliver precision munitions with a sensor suite that fuses data from multiple information sources — is something our nation needs.” Carlisle said in July that even though he would feel comfortable sending the F-35 to a fight as soon as the jet becomes operational, ACC has formed a “deliberate path” where the aircraft would deploy in stages: first to Red Flag exercises, then as a “theater security package” to Europe and the Asia-Pacific. The fighter probably won’t deploy to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State group any earlier than 2017, he said, but if a combatant commander asked for the capability, “I’d send them down in a heartbeat because they’re very, very good.” The declaration is another achievement for the $379 billion program — the Pentagon’s largest weapons project — following the declaration of a first squadron of F-35s ready for combat made by the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2015.
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