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Hill AFB’s fleet of F-35s nearly ready for war

June 22, 2016 GMT

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — After two weeks of rigorous testing in Idaho, the commander of Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Fighter Wing says the F-35 is ready for war.

On June 17, seven of Hill’s 12 F-35A Lightning II jets returned from two weeks of operational training at Mountain Home Air Force Base, where a crew of about 180 tested the jet during simulated combat exercises. Those simulations tested the F-35s ability to suppress and destroy enemy aircraft, launch air interdiction missions and provide basic close air support — all things F-35 pilots will be asked to do in combat scenarios.

• RELATED: Portion of Hill AFB’s F-35 fleet deploys out of state for the first time

Col. David Lyons, commander of the 388th, said the two-week testing period proved the next-generation fighter has overcome issues surrounding its combat readiness, most notably glitches in the plane’s software system.

Lyons said Hill’s F-35s completed all 88 of the combat sorties that were scheduled for the training. During those sorties, pilots practiced dropping GBU-12 Paveway II bombs from the jet and hit 15 of 16 targets. And perhaps most importantly, Lyons said there were no issues with the performance of the jet’s Autonomic Logistics Information System.

A glitch in the software system had been causing the plane’s radar to shut down sporadically, sometimes during mid-flight, but F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Program Office has been working to fix the glitch over the past several months.

• RELATED: Despite F-35 glitch, officials optimistic Hill Air Force Base won’t face delays

“We had zero losses due to any software stability issues,” said Maj. Brad Matherne, an F-35 pilot with Hill’s 34th Fighter Squadron. “There were no shut down events on the ground or in the air. We had zero issues.”

Personnel from both of Hill’s fighter wings, the active-duty 388th and the reserve 419th, participated in the exercises, with F-15Es from Mountain Home providing the simulated enemy aircraft. Maintainers from F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin were also there.

Capt. Richard Palz, officer in charge with the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, said the bulk of the maintenance was performed by Hill personnel, but Lockheed employees supplemented their work by providing structure and mission support and providing expertise with the ALIS system.

Lyons said there was a battery failure and a navigation system failure during the two-week training, but the 23-year fighter pilot said those were “minor problems” that aren’t unusual. The commander said the jet is on schedule to meet the “Initial Operational Capability,” designation which has been targeted for some time between August and December of this year.

Lyons said the designation is an important milestone because it means the jet can deploy as a weapons system anywhere in the world.

“I’d feel comfortable taking it into combat very soon,” Lyons said. “It’s doing well.”

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook.