The Air Force will make its F-35A Lightning II initial operating capability deadline in 2016 but not without some maintenance and manpower gymnastics, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, said. “It’s a tremendous challenge … there’s a couple of ways we’re looking at to potentially do it,” he said at a panel discussion at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium on Thursday. Without maintainers freed up from retiring the A-10, USAF leadership is looking at contract maintenance to support F-35 training at Luke AFB, Ariz., and to be able to fully man its combat-coded F-35 unit at Hill AFB, Utah, Carlisle said. USAF is also looking at standing down some legacy squadrons earlier than planned to free maintainers for the F-35, he added. However, “All of those things are a short-term fix … I think we have a way forward to get to (initial operational capability) … in ’16 sometime between August and December, but that’s just the beginning,” he said. “We’re going to be buying [F-35s] at a fairly high rate, and we’re not going to buy them and park them. We have to grow that maintenance capability.” Demand will increase from some 300 maintainers to nearly 2,000 over the next five years “so we have got to figure out how to retire some aircraft and replace them with F-35s,” Carlisle said. Air Education and Training Command chief Gen. Robin Rand, in a press conference the same day, said he hasn’t been asked to accelerate F-35 maintenance training. “Do we have more capacity? Not really … We have to try to figure out … how can we harvest more maintainers who need less training.”
While some of the Air Force's newly announced changes will happen quickly, it may take most of Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin's tenure in the job to accomplish the rest, he said in a Brookings Institution event Feb. 28.