The Navy on Thursday declared their carrier-based F-35C Lightning II “mission ready,” the last version of the Joint Strike Fighter to be equipped for combat.
“The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win,” Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of U.S. Naval Air Forces, said in a statement. “We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force.”
The “Initial Operational Capability” declaration came after the Navy’s first operational F-35C squadron, the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, completed aircraft carrier qualifications aboard the USS Carl Vinson and received their “Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification,” according to the Navy. The qualifications were done last December, according to Lt. Travis Callaghan, a U.S. Naval Air Forces spokesman.
To become mission ready, the squadron had to be “properly manned, trained and equipped to conduct assigned missions in support of fleet operations,” the Navy said. Also, the ship that supports the squadron has to have the “proper infrastructure, qualifications and certifications,” according to the Navy. Callaghan would not name the ship that will get the fighter jets because the Navy does not comment future deployments. The F-35Cs have been tested on the USS Carl Vinson, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the USS Nimitz.
The F-35 is the most expensive weapon in U.S. military history, but the program has been marred by delays and cost overruns and other mechanical issues.
The F-35 program is more than 17 years old and the estimated acquisition cost for the program is more than $406 billion, according to the Defense Department.
The Marine Corps was first to declare its F-35B operational in 2015 and the Air Force declared its F-35A operational in 2016.
“This accomplishment represents years of hard work on the part of the F-35 Joint Program Office and Naval Aviation Enterprise,” Rear Adm. Dale Horan, director of US Navy F-35C Fleet Integration Office, said in the Navy statement. “Our focus has now shifted to applying lessons learned from this process to future squadron transitions, and preparing [Strike Fighter Squadron] VFA-147 for their first overseas deployment.”
The Navy has 23 F-35C Lightning II aircrafts, according to Callaghan. The Navy’s home for their Joint Strike Fighter Wing is at Naval Air Station Lemoore, about 40 miles south of Fresno, Calif. The Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 is based there.
The wings on the F-35C are larger and its landing gear is stronger than the other variants due to catapult launches and arrested landings with tailhooks on the aircraft carriers, according to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program website. It can also fold it wing tips to create more space on the carrier’s deck when it is deployed and it has more internal fuel capacity than the other F-35s.
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