ST. GEORGE — An official unveiling ceremony was held Wednesday at Hill Air Force Base just south of Ogden marking what Lockheed Martin called the official acceptance of the first F-35A fighter jets into the 34th Fighter Squadron the “Rude Rams,” slated to be declared the first such squadron operationally capable.
Hill Air Force Base is the 10th base worldwide, fifth U.S. Air Force Base, to fly F-35s. The first two F-35 Lightning IIs arrived at the air force base Sept. 2 with more following. Hill is also the site from which the Air Force will declare initial operational capability, or IOC, for the F-35As in 2016.
“As we celebrate the stand-up of the Air Force’s first operational F-35 squadron, we are demonstrating our commitment to a cause of critical importance both to Utahns and all Americans — our national defense,” Sen. Orrin Hatch said at the ceremony. “We are immensely blessed to live in a nation that protects the rights and liberties we cherish. With the F-35, our liberties are even more secure. This weapon system will be a powerful deterrent to those enemies who would tear down our freedom and destroy our peace.”
Also addressing members of the base and other officials at Wednesday’s ceremony were Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Rob Bishop, four-star General Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, Air Combat Command commander, Lt. Gen. James Jackson, chief of Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, and others.
The officials praised the F-35A, a fifth generation multirole fighter, for its superior tactical ability, and recognized the capabilities of Hill’s service members and surrounding communities to support the squadron.
“Since Sept. 2, we’ve flown our new jets hard,” the air force base’s 388th Fighter Wing Commander Col. David B. Lyons said at the ceremony. “The airplanes have met all our expectations in the air, but notably, we have not lost a single flight to a maintenance-related issue thus far. Obviously we can’t stay perfect forever, but if our first month is any indication, this jet is going to be a workhorse.”
In his blog reflecting on the ceremony, Lee said:
“Standing in front of these state-of-the-art fighter jets, and reflecting on the ingenuity and hard work that built them, served as a vivid reminder of the fact that the success of the United States’ armed services has always depended not only on the extraordinary bravery and toughness of our men and women in uniform, but also on the superiority of our technology.
“In one theater after another, we haven’t just out fought our adversaries, we have out innovated them.
“When it comes to innovating, training, testing, and maintaining America’s aircraft, missiles, and avionics, Northern Utah has long been the nation’s leader. …”
Hatch has worked to highlight the unique capabilities of Hill Air Force Base to senior Defense Department officials, a release from his office said, making the case that Hill should be chosen to receive the first operational squadron of F-35s.
“Senator Hatch is keenly aware that air superiority is a critical precondition to successful military operations and as such, has been instrumental in getting this much needed capability to our first operational location, Hill AFB,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.
According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35A’s advanced sensors, stealth coatings and network-enabled operations revolutionize the way pilots fly the airplane and conduct missions.
“In many ways, the F-35A will change the way the USAF uses the fighter fleet, the way the F-16 changed it in 1979,” Lockheed Martin said in a Web post Wednesday. “It brought never-before-seen agility for close combat missions.”
Carlisle called the arrival of the F-35As to Hill Air Force Base a significant milestone toward delivering air dominance for decades to come.
“The Lightning provides an increased lethality through advanced sensor fusion and survivability that is essential to our success against the growing number of globally advanced threats.”
Members of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings are charged with operating and maintaining the fighters.
“The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings were the very first units to fly combat-coded F-16s,” Jackson said, as reported by Lockheed Martin. “They continue to lead the way today with our newest generation fighter. Today we are building the future force we need.”
Hatch also commended the members of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings. Addressing them at the ceremony, he said: “You represent the very best this nation has to offer. Your devotion to honor, selflessness, integrity, and courage embodies the very pinnacle of American virtue. Thank you for your example, your commitment, and your sacrifice.”
Lee noted in his blog that the F-35 squadron’s placement at Hill Air Force Base is complimented by the work that will be done on it at Ogden Air Logistics Complex.
“Nearly 70 percent of the lifecycle cost of an aircraft comes after its purchase,” Lee wrote, “when the wear and tear of training and combat requires maintenance, repair, and modernization. Which is why the Logistics Complex is so vital not just to the Air Force and the success of U.S. military actions overseas, but also to America’s fiscal well-being.”
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