Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command, says the F-35A may be ready for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) soon. The F-35 could enter the fight against ISIS as soon as this fall.

“The minute I declare initial operational capability, if the combatant commander called me up and said, ‘We need F-35s,’ I would send them,” Carlisle told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

The often-delayed fighter has come with a price tag of nearly $400 billion dollars. The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin are looking for any opportunity to put a positive spin on the huge program. Deploying it to the Middle East would be a significant sign to lawmakers and taxpayers that the oft maligned jet may be finally over its issues.

Software problems with the logistics system have been the latest culprit, delaying IOC until the later part of 2016. The Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is the information infrastructure for the F-35. It transmits aircraft health and maintenance action information to a globally-distributed network of technicians. The F-35 is the first tactical aviation system to have sustainment tools engineered in concert with the aircraft for efficiency and cost effectiveness.

“We’re not quite ready yet, but things are going very well in the program,” said Carlisle.

Carlisle, along with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and new Chief of Staff Gen. David Golden, would make the determination on IOC for the F-35A. Hill Air Force Base’s 34th Fighter Squadron is set to become the service’s first operational F-35A squadron. August 1st is the current target date.

With the plane nearly operational, Air Force leaders are concerned that they may have a multi-million dollar jet with a significant lag in actual weapons systems. The concern is having a 5th generation jet with limited capability against the current threat.

“Our main air to air missile entered service in 1991 and our fifth-generation aircraft still employ those fourth-generation [weapons],” he said.

Carlisle told Congressional representatives that the Air Force needs new aircraft weapons that can reliably function in an environment with counter-measures and electronic jamming.

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Top Photo Credit: 34th Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. George Watkins flies a combat-coded F-35A Lightning II aircraft past the control tower at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Sept. 17. During the sortie, the base’s first, Watkins conducted mission qualification training focusing on weapons employment, range familiarization and mission system proficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alex R. Lloyd)