F-35s flown by test pilots out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River on Sept. 5. Photo courtesy Joint Strike Fighter Program Office.
The F-35 Lightning II marked a milestone toward deployment Sept. 10, with commencement of a detailed evaluation that will lead to training and mission plans. The fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter is slated to be made in huge numbers: Lockheed Martin has collected more than 2,400 orders for the $70 million aircraft. It is slated to be a standard fighter for Air Force and Navy squadrons for decades to come, along with various foreign allies. The Air Force, while making a case for the program estimated to cost more than $1 trillion, notes in a recent press release that “the F-35 is a gorilla in the room when it comes to the national defense budget.”
If Congress fails to replace current deficit reduction legislation, a 10-year reduction of $500 billion defense dollars will begin next year.
Air Force Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, said the growing squadron of new aircraft supports 1,000 contractors and uniformed jobs, and that crew is expected to grow to 1,600 by 2015. The program website includes job postings.
The Air Force lauded the multi-role capability and uniform design of the multi-service fighter that is slated to be deployed in numbers not seen since the F/A-18 was introduced in 1982.
The “Operational Utility Evaluation” that began Sept. 10 will lead to training programs for flight crews and ground crews, a 65-day effort.
"The start of the OUE is another huge milestone for the Air Force and the program as a whole," said Toth. "We've been preparing for this event since the arrival of our first aircraft in July last year.”