The F-35A was declared ‘combat-ready’ on August 2, 2016, as the US Air Force achieved initial operating capability at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. But what lies ahead for the F-35 in USAF service, and how is the program shaping up?

It's a program that draws controversy, critics and glowing supporters alike. The superlatives quoted by those close to the F-35 Lightning II speak of their ‘baby’ in an almost sycophantic manner, yet many are still unconvinced. Indeed, Canada’s insistence that the F-35 remains an uncertain quantity and that an interim batch of Super Hornets is currently a better option will only serve to fuel that skepticism.

F-35As on the prowl over the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). The F-35’s advanced abilities have made clear the need to improve the US military’s training ranges in order to meet the latest training requirements.

The reality is that both the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force have seen fit to press the Lightning II into service. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 ‘Green Knights’ is set to move its F-35Bs from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, in 2017, and the 388th Fighter Wing (FW) at Hill AFB, Utah, is likely to make a combat deployment later this year.

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