F-35 Lightning II Program Update
Joint Base Andrews F-35 Press Conference
Following the September 2015 Friday practice show; the media was invited to attend a press conference hosted by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan and F-35 Integration Office Operations Division Chief Col. Todd “Tales” Canterbury. Also in attendance was 33FW Operations Group Commander Col. Lance “Shudda” Pilch and, F-35 pilots Lt. Col. Christine “Grinder” Mau and Capt. Mark “Raw” Schnell along with an F-35 maintainer.
With the 33FW Commander’s aircraft (Bu. 11-5033) in the background, the secretary stated the F-35 is “lethal” (can attack and live to fight from a distance), “survivable” (not to be shot down) and “adaptive” (a multi-role fighter). To date, 129 aircraft have flown 38,000 flight hours by two hundred pilots and are serviced by 1,800 trained maintainers.
The Secretary further informed, the Air Force believes that they are on schedule for their targeted goal to have delivered the first twenty-four planes to the 34FW at Hill AFB by August 2016. These aircraft will have Initial Operating Capabilities (IOC) and will be Combat Capable, although they will not yet have obtained Full Operational Capability. That will come later.
Once received, Air Combat Command will take charge of the F-35s which will be tasked the same as the F-16. In three years, F-35 production has tripled and is expected to go from 129 planes to over 1,000 for both U.S. and foreign nations. Sixteen more planes will be produced in 2016 than in 2015.
Allocation for the Block-Buy (Multi-Buy) for all three services for 2017 has already been distributed to those services. The Secretary and General Bogdan both stressed the importance of bringing down costs. The F-35 unit cost has dropped from $108 million per first copy to a projected $80 million dollars per unit by 2019. Secretary James repeatedly stressed that another Federal Government Budget Sequestration or Continuing Resolution will hurt the F-35 program.
The 33FW (Eglin AFB) is the first stop for every F-35 pilot and maintainer. The F-35 has 2B software and requires seventeen trips to the simulator (1.7 hours each trip) before the pilot gets into the jet. Pilots “Grinder” and “Raw” stated the F-35 is uncomplicated to fly- making it possible for the pilot to concentrate on the battlefield. An F-35 pilot can roll-in unobserved and has never engaged a target from a defensive position.
Secretary James announced the F-35 is here to stay for decades to come and that the program is expected to continue to grow. Future training for foreign partners will take place at Luke AFB.
In closing the Secretary again reminded the audience, the importance of avoiding a Budget Sequestration or Continuing Resolution