Air Force Announces Successful Weapons Test For F-35A Joint Strike Fighter

An F-35B drops a bomb during a test. Credit: U.S. Navy.

Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander, drops a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb from an F-35A Lightning II at the Utah Test and Training Range Feb. 25, 2016. The 34th FS is the Air Force’s first combat unit to employ munitions from the F-35A. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Haseltine)

Is the much-maligned and mega-expensive F-35A Joint Strike Fighter moving toward operational reality?

The Air Force announced Tuesday that F-35A JSFs successfully dropped laser-guided bombs during tests last week. The 388th and 419th fighter wings at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base participated in the tests.

“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins said in an Air Force statement.

It’s the first time such bombs had been launched with jets designed to deploy after so-called initial operational capacity. IOC is declared when the planes are deemed ready for combat.

The F-35 is also known as the Joint Strike Fighter because it’s intended for use by the Navy, the Marine Corps and 10 foreign countries, in addition to the Air Force. It is designed as an aerial version of a Swiss Army knife and could replace current aircraft like the F-16 and the A-10.

A single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth fighter, the F-35 has been plagued by delays, cost overruns and a multitude of other issues. It’s currently four years behind schedule in terms of when the original project was started. The current price tag is $400 billion – making it the most expensive weapons

system in American history. It could ultimately wind up costing $1 trillion.

But designing and producing a next-generation fighter that is a jack of all trades isn’t cheap or easy.

The F-35’s aviation technology ranks among the most sophisticated in the world — designed to conduct air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

It’s also designed to allow pilots to immediately share data with one another and their commanders; it can penetrate enemy territory without being detected by radar; and its specialized helmet display gives pilots a 360-degree view of their surroundings.

The F-35 has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing version that will be used by the Air Force, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing version that will be used by the Marine Corps and the F-35C carrier-based version that will be used by the Navy.