Schwartz: F-35A IOC in Late 2017, Maybe

The Air Force may be able to field its first unit of combat-ready F-35A strike fighters in 2017 under the most recent restructure of the tri-service F-35 program, said Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. “That is still not quite firm. We thought [before the restructure] we would be able to declare initial operational capability in April of 2016. It’s going to be later than that, maybe late in the year in 2017, primarily because of software development issues,” Schwartz told the House Appropriations Committee’s military construction panel. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the restructure in January to lessen risk by removing concurrency in the F-35’s flight testing and production. The Air Force is still reviewing its effect on the F-35A’s fielding schedule, but service officials have said there could be a delay up to two additional years, meaning as late as 2018. Schwartz said the F-35A “is performing actually quite well” in testing. “But integrating all of the capabilities onto the bird—weapon delivery capabilities and so on—is the current pacing item,” he noted during his April 7 appearance before the panel.