WASHINGTON, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Air Force F-35 units have dropped laser-guided bombs at a Utah test range, the first use of weapons by combat fighter wings.
The bombing occurred at Utah Test and Training Range and involved the Air Force's 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base using GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.
"This is significant because we're building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment," said Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander.
Air Force F-35s have dropped weapons in test environments, but this is the first time it's been done on jets designed to deploy once the F-35 gains initial operational capability later this year.
F-35 pilots at Hill AFB next month could begin flying the F-35 in four-ship formations, the standard configuration in combat scenarios, the Air Force said.
The Air Force is making its final preparations and ensuring the F-35 pilots and maintainers have the tools they need when IOC is declared.
"The focus now is on sharpening the edge," said Kevin Smith, the F-35A U.S. Air Force program manager at Lockheed Martin. "The foundational elements are in place at Hill Air Force Base, and we have a last few improvements to deliver to fully enable the capabilities the Air Force needs for initial operations."
Smith said the fleet management system called the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, were delivered last summer, and ALIS support equipment and spares and two aircraft were ferried to the base in September.
Four Full Mission Simulators were installed in December.
"To become fully qualified on the F-35 following their schoolhouse graduation, the pilots are conducting a variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface exercises," said Smith. "The training is designed to prepare pilots for missions such as close air support, interdiction and persecuting enemy air defenses, and also ensuring the maintainers have the on-the-job experience they need to efficiently return the jets to operational status."
Hill's F-35 pilots will begin flying the F-35 in four-aircraft formations, which is the standard configuration flown in contested combat scenarios, as early as March.