A difficult time for Boeing is watching Lockheed Martin have its F-35 reach IOC on August 2nd, 2016. The F-35A Air Force version has proven itself against every IOC requirement thrown in its way. The Initial Operational Capability tests launches the Block 2B lot of F-35 aircraft ready for combat going to the Block 3i level completeness. This next level polishes off the code in a combat workman like manner. It will be able to have true situational awareness for the war fighter and its pilots. This is the fifth generation anchor for its capability. A system that can defeat any enemy instead of relying on agility, speed and physical capabilities matching all fourth generation war fighters. Fifth generation fighters will have data resources coming into the war bird from ground, space and air to air realms.
A touch screech directs the data to optimal results in a millisecond. The early on pilot testers reported using initial software loads could not maximize the aircraft's fighting purpose going against an F-16. The point of that testing demonstrated the aircraft did not have the muscle against the F-16 where its "brains" were not available for the exercise and the F-35 was no match.
The second concern was coming from the pilot who could not master its aircraft attributes in combat testing. Otherwise "they" did not know how to utilize the aircraft fighting advantage and relied on conventional skills for which the F-35 was not designed for while lacking a show of force during air to air combat schemes. But when updates to systems occured and pilots understood the theory of warfare from an F-35 perspective it became a smug experience of having the superior position over the F-16, F-15, and any other fourth generation war bird. It wasn't even a contest when aerial fights occurred between the fourth and fifth generation fighter.
At Mountain Home AFB there was a week of sorties, bombings and dogfights with the F-35 and the home teams F-15 participating. The F-15 had professional pilots who flew their war fighter at a level of combat readiness. They knew all the tricks of Air to Air combat.
The test wing from Hill AFB Utah only had combat capable aircraft for short time where its maintainers had just completed F-35 mechanical and software updates to the aircraft from the perspective of in service operations and not from the Lockheed Martin team doing the upgrades.
The report card showed a wow moment. The F-35 completed 88 sorties without a hiccup while the Air Force team from Hill was operating in the field, and it made fifteen of sixteen successful bomb runs. The F-15 team was mopped up by the F-35 even though they were a high level unit from Mountain Home. They aren't talking about what happened because the F-35 is that good when applied appropriately using all its attributes of a fifth generation fighter. It may be that the F-35 is so much better than advertised it is better to let an adversary find out in combat when it becomes too late for them to rethink how to combat the F-35.
The key transition has moved from muscle 4th generation to sensory fifth generation attributes. Even though it can fly mach 1.6 or 1200 MPH is doesn't have to go faster but is needed to go longer. The DOD is looking at a new jet engine that can hyper cruise on long runs. Both P&W (135) and Boeing are involved in designing and making a jet engine that does not need an after burner mode to get the job done when it needs additional speed on long runs.
With all the complexities found within this fighter it is expected more issues will emerge as just another glitch in a long line of glitches. A rational thinker sees a strong foundation from its initial frame which can accommodate a continuous flow of updates added to the frame. The WIP approach on the F-35 has set the bar high and in 10-15 years, more development can be installed on the very first frames currently in operation. IOC is the starting gun sounding off for the race towards the F-35's vision of always getting better.