Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Hill AFB, Utah, celebrated the recognition its 388th and 419th Fighter Wings of F-35 fighter planes reaching "Full Warfighting Capability," the Air Force said on Monday.
The base is the first to receive the designation, and comes four and one-half years after it received its first combat-ready F-35. Approximately two planes per month have arrived at the based since.
The designation, officially reached in January, indicates that the F-35 fleet of 78 planes also has a full roster of trained pilots, maintenance personnel and support equipment. It is a step below Full Operational Capability, but is a significant milestone for an aircraft which has displayed numerous delays, cost overruns and problems in its readiness.
"Every training opportunity, exercise, and deployment we've completed over the past four years has been a key stepping stone in reaching full warfighting capability," said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander, in January. "This is just the beginning of sustained F-35A combat operations and we will remain focused on staying ready to deploy whenever, wherever we're needed."
Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, and Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, commander of Air Force Reserve Command and chief of the Air Force Reserve, participated in the commemorative ceremony on Feb. 20.
"People said you wouldn't make it," Holmes told the gathered airmen. "People said you couldn't get it done in the time frame we set out. People said there were too many problems yet to be worked out with the airplane, and yet, pretty much on schedule, here we are. We couldn't be more proud of you and all that you've accomplished."
Scobee also offered his appreciation.
"This is an awesome day and it's an awesome accomplishment," he said. "It takes a full-functioning team to be able to accomplish something like this, and that's what has happened in these two wings. The F-35 gives the Air Force and its allies the power to dominate the multi-domain, full spectrum of warfare that we'll have to be able to do anytime, anywhere."
In 2019, Hill AFB F-35s began support of combat operations with deployments to the Middle East.