The Marines Corps is sticking to its plan to begin early operational use in mid-2015 of its F-35B jets, which can take off and land like a helicopter. It will be the first of the three U.S. military services to start using the jets.
Its threshold is the end of 2015. The planes will run the F-35’s 2B software, which will give the Marines an initial war fighting capability that includes some air-to-air skills, the ability to strike targets on the ground and carry several internal weapons, including laser-guided bombs.
Lockheed on Monday said one of its F-35 B-model planes completed the first-ever vertical takeoff on May 10, demonstrating a capability needed for repositioning jets in areas where they cannot perform a short takeoff.
The Navy has set mid-2018 for starting operational use of its C-model F-35, which is designed for use aboard U.S. aircraft carriers. Its deadline or threshold date is early 2019.
The Air Force decision marks a reversal from its earlier insistence that it needed the final 3F software package and comes after a Pentagon report cited China’s development of two new fifth generation fighters over the past year.
The Air Force began studying the possible change several months ago. Lieutenant General Charles Davis told reporters in March that it might make sense to declare initial operating capability earlier than initially planned, given that the weapons on board would be suitable for basic war fighting needs.
The Air Force will have about 100 F-35s by 2016, when it plans to declare the planes ready for operational use.
The Pentagon’s program chief, Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, told lawmakers last month he was “moderately confident” that the 2B software -- and the associated 3I software being developed for international buyers -- would be completed in time for the planned Marine Corps IOC in mid-2015.
The Air Force jets would use the 3I software, which will include a technology refresh with improved memory processors for some sensors on board.