Italy and the United Kingdom also are planning to purchase the F-35B
The Navy, which has pursued a risk mitigation strategy of buying Boeing F/A-18 E/Fs and EA-18Gs while waiting for the F-35, is taking a more conservative approach toward welcoming the aircraft carrier-capable F-35C into service. The Navy plans to declare IOC in February 2019. The Navy leadership emphasizes in its statement about the 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.
Congress directed the Pentagon to declare these IOC plans last year, but allowed for a later release of the information as the Joint Program Office shored up plans for the budget and to assess progress in flight testing.
The services had shied away from declaring IOC owing to numerous past slips in the program; top brass did not want to be seen capitulating on yet another delay. But this now allows for program overseers in the Pentagon and Congress to measure progress against firm plans to introduce the variants into service.
This also allows for the services to craft plans for retiring older aircraft that will be replaced with the F-35, such as the F-16C/D, A-10 and AV-8B.
While establishing a benchmark, the IOC plans also put pressure on Lockheed Martin to make good on its software testing plans. “Our top priority is to continue to execute our plan to support these IOC dates, starting with the Marine Corps in December 2015. Lockheed Martin is committed to cost effectively delivering the F-35’s unprecedented 5th-generation capabilities to the warfighter,” company spokesman Michael Rein said in a statement.