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Carlisle: F-35A is fusion warfare key component

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (AFNS) -- During a panel session at the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference here Sept. 20, F-35A Lightning II senior leadership discussed the future of the multi-role aircraft.

Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the Air Combat Command commander, declared the F-35A the key component of fusion warfare.

“It changes the game,” Carlisle said. “It is going to be the difference maker and the backbone of the interoperability capabilities of the future.”

Carlisle acknowledged the evolution of the F-35A has been a “challenging endeavor.”

“It would have been easier to take a different path,” Carlisle said. “But it would have been the wrong answer.”

As a fifth-generation fighter, the F-35A provides unprecedented global precision attack capability against current and emerging targets. The aircraft incorporates state-of-the-art sensor fusion, networked interoperability and a broad array of advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions enabling unmatched lethality for decades.

“In terms of lethality and survivability, the aircraft is absolutely head and shoulders above our legacy fleet of fighters currently fielded,” said Gen. Scott Pleus, the F-35A integration office director. “This is a formidable airplane and one our adversaries should fear.”

Carlisle declared the Lightning II combat ready on Aug. 2, after extensive readiness assessments. The aircraft proved its capabilities during multiple exercises throughout the summer.

In June 2016, seven F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, conducted combat testing scenarios at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. The two-week deployment established the aircraft’s combat readiness with 88 sorties planned and executed.

Following the initial operational capability announcement, the 33rd Fighter Wing participated in Exercise Northern Lightning Aug. 31 at Volk Field, Wisconsin, the largest F-35A deployment to date. In an exercise that will shape future real-world deployments, the 33rd FW recorded more than 110 kills against “enemy aircraft,” supported a surge of 138 sorties and dropped 24 GBU-12 laser-guided bombs during the exercise.

Despite these significant milestones, the program continues to face scrutiny following the announcement of insulation problems affecting 15 aircraft in the field. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Program executive officer, acknowledged problems will occur with any new system being developed and now is the time to find and fix those issues.

“The program itself is making progress,” Bogdan said. “The mark of a good program is not that you don’t have any problems, but that you find things early, you fix them and you move on.”

The F-35A program is continuing to move forward with plans to obtain full operational capabilities.

“This is a fantastic airplane,” Carlisle said. “Although there are bumps in the road, I firmly believe this aircraft will only get better and better, and will prove to be one of the most valuable assets in our United States Air Force.”