RAF FAIRFORD, England — The head of US Air Combat Command said Thursday the Air Force would likely declare the F-35A combat-ready within the "leading edge" of the August through December window for initial operational capability (IOC).
Importantly, Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle stressed that the service can declare IOC without aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin having delivered the version of its logistics system originally intended for the milestone. Company officials have said the 2.0.2 version of its Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) has been delayed until about October or November.
Nonetheless, the service can press on with an IOC declaration if its leaders believe an earlier version of ALIS would be adequate during an operational deployment, said Carlisle, who would make the decision in consultation with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and new Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
"We've deployed with the current software we had and it worked," he said, referencing the June deployment of seven F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. "The Marines have deployed with it in its current configuration. It's not quite up to where we wanted to be, but there's workarounds."
Some of those workarounds include having to key in entries or forms multiple times, meaning the program is not as efficient as the Air Force would like it to be for IOC. Nonetheless, Carlisle said the current iteration of ALIS was not "a limiting factor," and the aircraft boasted a 92.3 percent mission-capable rate during the Mountain Home deployment.
Hill Air Force Base's 34th Fighter Squadron is set to become the service's first operational F-35A squadron, and those airmen are working toward meeting the Aug. 1 target date, he said.
Once the F-35A hits IOC, the Air Force will be able to send it around the world for operations, but Carlisle said he likely wouldn't deploy the joint strike fighter into a combat zone such as Iraq or Syria until at least 2017 or 2018.
However, if a combatant commander needed the F-35 in a fight, "I could deploy them. And I would. I would in a heartbeat," he told reporters at the Royal International Air Tattoo.
In order to declare IOC, Carlisle needs to have 12 to 24 combat-ready F-35As with enough trained pilots, maintainers and other personnel needed to support the jets. The aircraft must be deployable and able to conduct basic close-air support, air interdiction and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defense missions, he said.
Jeff Babione, Lockheed's executive vice president and general manager, told Defense News earlier in the morning that the company was "focused like a laser" on wrapping up the ALIS 2.0.2 delivery as soon as possible. Other prerequisites for IOC that the company is responsible for, such as making combat-ready jets available, have already been completed.
"There is extremely complicated software that goes in [ALIS], and we're working through and ensuring that all that information, it's all working well before we turn it out to the customer," he said. "So we're taking a little extra time."
For his part, Carlisle did not appear concerned about the logistic system's delays.
"I am confident that 2.0.2 will be out before very long," he said.