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As North Korea Rattles Saber, The F-35 Jet Fighter Is Now Combat-Ready

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By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security

On August 29, the U.S. Air Force announced that the F-35A variant Lightning II jet fighter was officially ready for combat and will activate its first combat unit in September. The aircraft is also scheduled for one of Luke Air Force’s training units in September.

Produced by Lockheed Martin, the multi-billion dollar jet program has achieved yet another milestone, despite cost hindrances, delays and software malfunctions that it faced for nearly 16 years. The Air Force’s combat unit is the second to stand up following the Marine Corps, which deployed to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, earlier this year.

Stephen Carlson of UPI reports that the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force in Utah anticipates that the Air Force’s first F-35As with operational Block 3F software will arrive soon, having finally passed testing and production after multiple challenges.

The Block 3F software is responsible for all warfighting capabilities, full sensor and weapons systems, embedded training, and portions of the data link imagery apparatuses. Testing and production challenges presented significant risks for the F-35A variant from previous developments, integrating Block 2B using Block 31 hardware, according to Woodrow Bellamy III writing in Avionics.

Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, testified that such processes caused the F-35A systems failure rate to increase from once every 30 hours to once every four hours.

The Block 3F is now fully operational. It can execute pivotal tasks such as proliferating the weapons delivery capacity of the fighter, giving it the ability to drop Joint Direct Attack Munitions and short-range air-to-air missiles (AIM-9x short-range infrared missiles).

F-35s that are stationed at military installations in the United States and at coalition sites overseas have not been upgraded yet. They will not be considered fully capable until the upgrades are made.

The great Block 3F software accomplishment comes at a time when the aircraft could potentially fight in its first combat mission in the Pacific.

During a briefing at the Pentagon on August 25, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson insisted that the fighters would be used if needed. “We now just passed 100,000 flying hours with the F-35, and it is doing very well and in any contingency, if there is a problem, they’re ready to go – ready to go to combat,” Wilson said.

The Secretary’s comments are well-timed because the United States faces continued aggression from North Korea, whose president, Kim Jong-un, threatened to launch missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam. The North Korean missiles could possibly hit waters approximately 30 miles from the island.

The heightened threats have resulted in the deployment of U.S. B-1Bs near the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. On August 29, North Korea successfully launched a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan. North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA stated the launch was a “the first step of the military operation of the North Korean military in Pacific and a meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” CNN’s Brandon Lendon and Joshua Berlinger reported.

No Timetable Yet for Deploying The F-35A in Asia-Pacific Region

Although there are no projected timetables for deploying the latest F-35s in theater, there have been discussions about establishing a security system to deploy F-35As in the Asia-Pacific region on semi-annual rotations. North Korea’s increasing aggression could make the mission highly probable.

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The F-35Bs are strategically located in Japan and could quickly interject if needed. But having F-35As with the full warfighting capabilities they were designed for would be vital in interception operations and mitigating North Korea’s “ultra-modern rocket system.”

Chief of Staff Air Force General David L. Goldfein said, “The combat-ready F-35A is the latest fifth-generation fighter in the Air Force’s inventory and provides our nation air dominance in any environment. The F-35A brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, adaptability, to joint and combined operations, and is ready to deploy and strike well-defended targets anywhere on Earth.”

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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