|Fifteen years after development began and ten years after it first took flight, the F-35 fighter is operational with the U.S. Air Force.|
Today's announcement of initial operational capability (IOC) for the F-35A is arguably the most important milestone in the fighter's evolution, because the Air Force will buy over 70% of the plane's domestic production run (1,763 of 2,443 aircraft), and its variant is the version that the vast majority of overseas allies will acquire.
|The milestone means that the service can now send its first operational F-35 formation — the 34th Fighter Squadron located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah — into combat operations anywhere in the world.|
The long road, which began in 2001, has been fraught with crippling design flaws, numerous technical problems, and jaw-dropping costs. Lockheed Martin, considered a bellwether for the US defense sector, is expected to generate nearly a fifth of its $50 billion in 2016 sales solely from the F-35 program.