After much speculation, the US Air Force announced today that the first Theater Security Package (TSP) involving the F-35A Lightning II will take the fifth-generation fighter to the Asia Pacific region.
Some observers had predicted that the USAF would first take the F-35A on deployment to Europe. However, Maj Gen Jerry Harris, Vice Commander, Air Combat Command, confirmed in a written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee that the initial TSP will be in the US Pacific Command (PACOM) area of responsibility.
Although no time scale has been given, the USAF is likely to send an F-35A TSP to either Kadena Air Base in Japan, or Osan AB in South Korea, later this year.
The USAF’s 34th Fighter Squadron began preparation for the TSP deployment when the ‘Rude Rams’ participated in January 2017’s ‘Red Flag’ exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (see the forthcoming April issue of Combat Aircraft for full details).
An initial foreign deployment is clearly a prelude to the F-35’s combat debut in an operational theater.
The F-35A was declared ‘combat ready’ in August 2016, and Gen ‘Hawk’ Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command said last year the the F-35A is ready to go to war in the current ‘Inherent Resolve’ operation in Iraq and Syria.
Speaking to media last summer, Carlisle remarked that he would deploy the F-35A ‘in a heartbeat’ to wherever a combatant commander might require it. ‘I think it will be 2017-18’, Carlisle said at the time.