The Air Force received its 100th F-35 Lightning II Friday.
The fifth-generation aircraft landed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, joining the service’s ever-growing fleet of the aircraft less than a month after top brass declared the F-35 had reached its initial operating capability Aug. 2.
“This marks a milestone and shows the fact that the F-35 program has continued to grow, progress and support initial operational capability,” Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, the 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke, said in a statement.
“It is also a ‘scare factor’ for our enemies that we are able to produce such an incredible platform at such a high production rate, and that it’s getting out in the field in larger and larger numbers, Leonard continued.
The Air Force is looking to purchase 1,763 F-35As, with the Navy and Marine Corps also buying variants of the craft.
Military leaders have advocated against any cuts to that number. The purchase program for the F-22 Raptor was canceled abruptly, leaving the Air Force with only 187 operational aircraft – a number operational planners say is far too low to meet current threats.
The current 100 F-35s are stationed mainly at Luke and at Hill AFB in Utah, with more set to join them before the end of the year as they roll off the Lockheed Martin assembly lines.
Worldwide, across all U.S. military services and allied nations, there are 175 operational F-35s at the moment, said Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon's Joint Program Office that oversees the fighter.
By the end of 2016, F-35s could outnumber F-22s.
"This is a good milestone," DellaVedova told Air Force Times about the delivery of the 100th F-35. "This program is on track and keeps delivering capability to the warfighter."
The Pentagon expects to accept 100 more of the aircraft in 2018 alone, DellaVedova said.
By 2020, Lockheed Martin is hoping to ramp up to full production of the craft, estimated at 17 F-35s per month.
Each plane currently costs an estimated $100 million to produce, but with quantities and efficiencies in manufacturing, Lockheed hopes to drop that number to $80 million.
Having reached IOC, combatant commanders have the option to request F-35s to come to their theater, though the Air Force indicated this is unlikely to happen in the near future.
F-35s will participate, however, in Red Flag training exercises at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, next year, an Air Force officer told Air Force Times.