[updated with official dates] WASHINGTON: Just two days before the Pentagon is required by Congress to report when the different versions of F-35 will hit Initial Operating Capability, that mark when the services begin to deliver planes that are sort of ready for war missions and serious training, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos told me that the Marines IOC date will be the “latter half of 2015.” The definition of IOC will be delivery of 10 planes with 10 crews. Full squadrons will comprise 15 planes, he said during an appearance at the Brookings Institution.
[On Friday the 31st, the services announced their official IOCs: December 2015 for the Marine Corps F-35B; December 2016 for Air Force F-35A; February 2019 for the Navy F-35C.]
The IOC became an important political issue last year when former Rep. Todd Akin pushed an amendment demanding an IOC date or the F-35 would see half of its annual spending cut. After Lockheed lobbyists swarmed the House Armed Services Committee, members decided to require military to provide them an IOC date without any punishment and stuck that in last year’s defense policy bill. Thus the Friday deadline.
The Air Force and Navy must also present their IOC dates to Congress by Friday. The Air Force date is expected by many to be late in 2017. I haven’t heard much about the Navy, which is the last service to receive its planes.
Of course, the Pentagon’s top tester, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation, is highly skeptical of this march to IOC. But the outgoing Air Force Secretary Mike Donley rejected the OTE arguments.
In other Marine news, Amos noted that he may be have to add 1,001 Marines for increased embassy security from within his existing force structure, although he wanted to add this new requirement on top of his existing force. Elements of that new force will deploy to six embassies and consulates “in the next little bit,” followed by another half-dozen by the end of year, he said.
Fun moment of the event: Brookings’ top defense expert Mike O’Hanlon asked Amos if the Air Force should buy F-35Bs, given how vulnerable runways are becoming. Amos, squirming a bit in his seat, smiled and said: “You know I’m not going to answer that.” And he didn’t.