Saturday, January 16, 2016

Luke Air Force Base continues gradual F-35 additions in 2016

Luke Air Force Base will continue steady expansion of its F-35 program this year, with 10 more of the fighter jets slated to arrive at the base.

Those additions will mean 44 F-35s at the West Valley base by the end of 2016, with plans for Luke to have 144 by 2014.

Beyond that, the base is becoming an international nexus for this one-of-a-kind fighter partnership.

“The F-35 is very much unique. Nine different countries had input on the design,” said Lt. Col. Matt Hasson, public affairs officer for the base.

Italy will assemble and send two jets this year, after the country became the first outside the United States to assemble an F-35 in September. Several more arrive from Japan in September.

Pilots from Italy and Norway train at the base, while Israeli pilots will be coming in for ground operations. Other countries that will participate in F-35A training at Luke include Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark and South Korea.

“This is a monumental achievement for the F-35 program,” stated Lorraine Martin, Lockheed Martin F-35 Program general manager in a Luke press release. “The F-35 provides Italy’s aerospace industry with high technology work, ensuring the future health and competitiveness for their defense industry.

The A course of the F-35 program began training at Luke in May 2015. They’ll finish this year and transition to the role of instructors for the next group.

B course trainees arriving in November will be the first group tabbed to fly the F-35 out of basic training. The first group was culled from throughout the air force and well versed in a variety of aircraft.

The B course will be fairly recent graduates of basic training and almost fresh off advanced fighter training. Hasson said their experience at Luke will be akin to an Air Force pilot version of graduate school.

Once finished at Luke, these pilots will be off to combat training at Hill Air Fore Base in Texas.

F-16 training will continue at Luke. But the 56th Fighter Wing mission statement changed last May, adding the F-35 Lightning program.

Another expected 2016 milestone is the jet’s first squadron capable of combat missions, aka Initial Operating Capability.

“Luke has an absolutely critical role in making the jet operational,” Hasson said.

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