Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said he is “more confident than ever” that the F-35A will achieve initial operational capability in 2016, but that development issues with software will have to be watched closely for full operational capability. Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on Wednesday, Welsh said he is closely tracking the progress on software integration with Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors. He noted that the strike fighter has reached some milestones recently, including the first night time flight for F-35A testing aircraft, which took place March 24. “That flight went fantastic,” he added. F-35 Program Director USAF Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces panel the same day, echoed Welsh’s assessment. In his statement for the committee, Bogdan said his biggest technical concern with the program remains software. Bogdan said he has “moderate confidence” the program will successfully release Block 2B and 3I software capability as planned in 2015 and 2016. More risk looms, however, with regard to Block 3F, the full combat capability software, which has a 2017 deadline. The contractors “need to improve both the speed and quality of software development” to catch up from previous delays. (See also Curse of the Zeros and Ones.)
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.