US Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford has declared an initial squadron of 10 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35B fighter jets ready for combat, the Pentagon said on Friday.
The decision by Dunford, whose nomination to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was approved this week, is a key milestone for the $391 billion F-35 program after years of cost overruns and schedule delays. It also makes the Marines the first US military service to declare an "initial operational capability" of the F-35.
The three models of the plane have been in development since 2001.
The F-35B model of the aircraft can take off from shorter runways and land like a helicopter.
"The F-35B's ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our nation with its first fifth-generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win," Dunford said in a statement.