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​Senior Airman Herbert Tucker marshals in an F-35A at Eglin AFB, Fla., Dec. 15, 2014. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.

​Initial operational capability for the F-35A—scheduled for August of 2016—is “at risk,” if Congress turns down the new force structure proposals from the Air Force in the service's upcoming Fiscal 2016 budget, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. In a “State of the Air Force” press briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday, Welsh acknowledged that the service is struggling to come up with enough experienced maintainers to transition to the F-35. The Air Force had planned to shift them from the A-10, but Congress wouldn’t allow the A-10’s retirement in Fiscal 2015. “We don’t have 1,000 extra maintainers waiting around for work,” said Welsh. “If the proposals we come forward with” in the new budget “are not agreed to, then IOC is at risk,” he said. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, sitting next to Welsh, said “I think we’re getting close to a solution” to the maintainer issue, but did not disclose details, saying they would be clear in the budget proposal. Welsh said, however, that IOC is less important to him than full operational capability, when a more sizable force of F-35s will be ready to go to war. Nevertheless, he said flatly, “I see nothing … at this point” that would spell a delay for either IOC or FOC with the F-35A. (James-Welsh transcript)