The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 F-35As; the A-model is expected to be by far the largest international seller to JSF partners—Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway Turkey and the U.K.—as well as to Israel, Japan and, possibly, South Korea and Singapore.
The Navy, which has pursued a risk-mitigation strategy of buying Boeing F/A-18E/Fs and EA-18Gs while waiting for the F-35C, is taking a more conservative approach toward the aircraft carrier-capable F-35C. The service plans to declare IOC in February 2019, well after the 3F software's anticipated operational testing phase in late fiscal 2017. Navy leadership emphasizes in its statement about its IOC plans that it will need the F-35C to “find, fix and assess threats, and, if necessary, track, target and engage them with lethal results in all contested environments.” These capabilities will require, at the least, 3F software as well as training to a larger mission set for an IOC declaration.
By contrast, the Marine Corps and Air Force are taking an incremental approach, allowing for limited use of the aircraft for IOC with a growth path as more capability is delivered to the fleet, eventually culminating in a full-operational capability.
This strategy, however, exposes the first adopters to retrofitting the early aircraft they accept into service with modifications such as the improved software and upgraded helmet system.
Now that the services have their IOC plans on the table, they can better craft strategies for retiring older aircraft in favor of the F-35. These include the F-16C/D, A-10, AV-8B and F/A-18.
The IOC blueprint establishes a benchmark and puts pressure on Lockheed Martin to make good on its software testing plans. “I believe the aircraft design and technological capabilities of the F-35 are sound and the Joint Program Office will deliver on our commitments to meet service timelines,” Bogdan says.