This is what the future of air warfare looks like

F35aCourtesy of Lockheed MartinOn June 30, 2016 three United States Air Force F-35As touched down at RAF Fairford in the UK.

NATIONAL HARBOUR, Maryland — The largest buyer of America’s most expensive weapons program is calling it the centrepiece of fusion warfare.

“When you look at where the Air Force is headed, you look at coalition warfare and spend time in the Pacific, what this means to the interoperability, the ability to operate with others in the battle space and create the coalition warfare that we will always, always, fight with in the future, the centrepiece of that is gonna be the F-35,” US Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of air combat command, said at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber conference.

F35aCourtesy of Lockheed MartinThe F-35 Heritage Flight Team’s F-35A flies validation flights on July 5, 2016.

“The integration, the interoperability, the fusion warfare that this here plane brings to the fight … it changes the game.”

Carlisle spoke alongside F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Program executive officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, director of the F-35A integration office Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, and commander of the 388th Fighter Wing Col. David Lyons.

GensUS Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson JrGen. Hawk Carlisle, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus and Col. David Lyons, speak during the F-35 Lightning II reaching initial operational capability panel at the AFA’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbour, Md., Sept. 20, 2016.

In August, Carlisle declared initial combat capability of 15 Air Force F-35A jets, a significant breakthrough for the weapons program, which has been offset by design flaws, cost overruns, and technical challenges.

“It was a challenging endeavour when we went down this path,” Carlisle said. “It would have been easier to let the Navy develop their plane, and the Marines develop an aeroplane, and the Air Force to develop an aeroplane … It would be easier to not have this be an international aeroplane … but that would have been the wrong answer,” Carlisle said.

The fifth-generation “jack of all trades” aircraft was developed in 2001 to replace the ageing Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force aircraft.

F35Courtesy of Lockheed MartinThe F-35 Lightning II fighter production facilities at Lockheed Martin Fort Worth, Texas.

The F-35 Lightning II, America’s priciest weapons system, has become one of the most challenged programs in the history of the Department of Defence.

And while the program continues to face snags, such as last weeks announcement of insulation problems impacting 15 F-35A’s, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan said that “the program itself is making progress.”

BogUS Air Force photoLt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 system program office director, speaks during ASC16 on Sept. 20, 2016.

“Any development program is going to encounter issues. If you’re building a development program and you don’t find anything wrong, then you didn’t do a good enough job building that program,” Bogdan said.

“So, it’s not a surprise to me that on any given day that we encounter things wrong with this aeroplane. Now is the time to find those things and fix them. The perfect example is our insulation problem we have right now,” 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, you make the aeroplane better, the weapons system better and you move on.”

Expanding on Bogdan’s comments, Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, the F-35A’s integration office director, offered some insight as an F-35A pilot.

“In terms of lethality and survivability, the aircraft is absolutely head and shoulders above our legacy fleet of fighters currently fielded,” said Pleus, a former command pilot with more than 2,300 flying hours. “This is an absolutely formidable aeroplane and one our adversaries should fear.”

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