Aug. 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force is poised to activate its first fully combat capable squadron of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets following completion of software upgrades.
The 34th Fighter Squadron located at Hill Air Force Base in Utah is expected to receive the first F-35s equipped with the finalized Block 3F software in September. The Block 3F upgrade will allow the F-35 to fully utilize its weapons and sensor systems, which until now have only been partially operational.
A training squadron at Luke AFB is the next slated to receive the upgraded F-35s, which is also scheduled for September.
The Air Force is considering sending the 34th to the Pacific as a deterrent to North Korean aggression once the squadron is fully operational later this year.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in a press conference on August 25 that the F-35 would be ready to go into combat if hostilities occur. Marine Corps F-35s currently stationed in the Pacific have not received the upgrades and would not be fully functional.
F-35s currently operating the Block 3 software have some combat capability but would not be able to use the full range of weapons available to the fighter until installed with the certified 3F package. Lockheed Martin has experienced a number of delays finalizing the 3F software.
The F-35's 25mm gun cannot be utilized in some flight maneuvers without the upgrade, in addition toother weapons systems like the AIM-9X short-range infrared air-to-air missile.
The F-35 is a 5th generation stealth multi-role fighter jet that is expected to replace much of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force fighter fleets. It has already been exported in small numbers to several partner nations for training and familiarization, with more expected to follow.
The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history and has experienced numerous design delays and cost overruns. Thousands are expected to be produced for the United States and allied militaries.