The Air Force this week declared that the F-35 Lightning II, one version of the most expensive weapon system ever, had reached initial operating capability, some 15 years after the Joint Strike Fighter program got underway.

The Air Force’s announcement that the fifth-generation fighter was “combat ready” follows the Marines’ declaration last summer that its version of the F-35 had achieved initial operational capability, but the Air Force announcement is significant because the Air Force is expected to use more that 70 percent of the U.S. component of the aircraft. In addition to the Marines, the Navy will use an aircraft carrier-capable version of the fighter, and some of the more than 2,400 F-35s will be used by coalition partners.

As a fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 is designed to be more maneuverable that previous jet fighters, better equipped to take out targets and, among other things, able to conduct electronic warfare operations to evade and defeat enemy air defenses.

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