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U.S. military reveals timing of future F-35 fighter's use to Congress

Three F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (rear to front) AF-2, AF-3 and AF-4, can be seen flying over Edwards Air Force Base in this December 10, 20
Three F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (rear to front) AF-2, AF-3 and AF-4, can be seen flying over Edwards Air Force Base in this December 10, 20

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - America's newest warplane, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will reach operational milestones in 2015 for the Marine Corps, 2016 for the Air Force and 2019 for the Navy, according to details formally provided to the U.S. Congress on Friday.

Those are the dates that Lockheed Martin's F-35 will achieve initial operational capability - the point when the services have enough planes on hand to go to war if needed.

Actual deployments usually lag initial operational capability (IOC) dates by about a year.

Reuters previously reported rough dates, citing sources familiar with the plans.

Friday's congressional rollout made the dates official, despite ongoing concerns about the cost and technical maturity of the world's most expensive weapons system.

Congress was told the following, according to the Pentagon:

- The Marine Corps F-35B will reach the IOC milestone by December 2015.

- The Air Force's F-35A will reach the IOC milestone by December 2016.

- The Navy's F-35C, attached to carrier air wings, will reach the IOC milestone by February 2019.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa. Writing by Phil Stewart; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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