WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Air Force has declared the F-35A stealth fighter jets combat ready after the controversial aircraft underwent years of testing and development delays.
"I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability," General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, said in a release on Tuesday.
"The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory, because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield," Carlisle said.
Worth 110 million U.S. dollars, the single-engine F-35 fighter jet is touted by Lockheed Martin, the plane's primary contractor, as the future of military aviation.
With a price tag of around 400 billion dollars for over 2,400 new F-35 fighters, the weapons program, originally conceived in 2001 to upgrade the U.S. military tactical fleet, has been the most expensive in history.
However, the program has encountered numerous issues that have led to serious cost overruns and delays, sending the cost of the project up by nearly 70 percent.
Earlier this year, Republican Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the costly project by describing the development of the F-35 as "a scandal."
Other problems with the fighter jet included software bugs, technical glitches and complications that would risk killing lightweight pilots when they ejected from the aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force plans to buy over 1,700 F-35A jets in the coming years and will operate the largest F-35 fleet in the world.
Besides the F-35A, designed to conduct conventional landings and take-offs, Lockheed has developed two other variants, F-35B, capable of short take-offs and vertical landings, and F-35C, used on aircraft carriers.
The F-35B was declared operational by the U.S. Marine Corps last year. Meanwhile, the F-35 is still undergoing testing and the Pentagon estimated it will be operational in 2019.