The U.S. Air Force has declared the simplest version of the F-35 fighter “combat-ready” but there are a bunch of asterisks after that title.
The Air Force announcement comes somewhat suspiciously on the heels of the Canadian government’s apparently reluctant decision to include the F-35 in yet another procurement exercise for a replacement for the CF-18.
The aircraft cleared for operational use still isn’t fully functional. It’s data sharing system doesn’t work and the ejection seats are too dangerous for pilots weighing less than 140 pounds and risky for pilots weighing up to 160 pounds.
But they’re working on it and Gen. Herbert Carlisle told reporters at the Pentagon it’s good enough to fly for his purposes.
“We are not to full operational capability,” Carlisle, head of the U.S. air combat command, told the media. “We will evolve and continue to improve it just like we have every airplane in history.”
“I would deploy it to a combat zone for the missions that it is uniquely qualified to do and I would have all the confidence in the world that this airplane could conduct operations,” Carlisle said.
The announcement even surprised Lockheed Martin, the builder of the aircraft, but spokesman Jack Crisler grabbed the gift for what it was.
“It’s really demonstrating the maturity and effectiveness of the airplane,” he said. “The data is starting to pile up that this aircraft is very effective.”