In another major milestone for the F-35 program, the Commander of Naval Air Forces and the US Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation jointly announced that the aircraft carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, has achieved initial operational capability (IOC).
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In order to declare IOC, the first operational squadron must be properly manned, trained and equipped to conduct assigned missions in support of fleet operations. This includes having 10 Block 3F, F-35C aircraft, requisite spare parts, support equipment, tools, technical publications, training programs and a functional Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS).
Additionally, the ship that supports the first squadron must possess the proper infrastructure, qualifications and certifications. Lastly, the Joint Program Office, industry, and Naval Aviation must demonstrate that all procedures, processes and policies are in place to sustain operations.
US Commander Naval Air Forces, Vice Admiral DeWolfe Miller, welcomed the achievement, saying, "The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win. 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 mission-ready F-35C is the latest addition to US Navy’s Carrier Air Wing. With its stealth technology, state-of-the-art avionics, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range, the aircraft carrier-based F-35C provides unprecedented air superiority, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses and close-air-support as well as advanced command and control functions through fused sensors.
"The F-35C will revolutionise capability and operating concepts of aircraft carrier-based naval aviation using advanced technologies to find, fix and assess threats and, if necessary, track, target and engage them in all contested environments. his accomplishment represents years of hard work on the part of the F-35 Joint Program Office and Naval Aviation Enterprise. Our focus has now shifted to applying lessons learned from this process to future squadron transitions, and preparing VFA-147 for their first overseas deployment," Rear Admiral Dale Horan, director, USN F-35C Fleet Integration Office said
These state-of-the art capabilities provide pilots and combatant commanders unrivalled battlespace awareness and lethality. The F-35C is the final US Joint Strike Fighter variant to declare IOC and follows the USAF’s F-35A and USMC’s F-35B.
The F-35C combines the unique capability of operating from a carrier deck with the unmatched fifth-generation capabilities of stealth, fused sensors and reliability, making the F-35C the Navy’s future first-day-of-the-war strike fighter. The Navy and Marines require an aircraft capable of overcoming a variety of threats — surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles and tactical aircraft. By leveraging this potent combination of stealth, advanced jamming and threat system destruction, the F-35C enhances survivability and increases mission success rates.
The F-35C variant has larger wings and more robust landing gear than the other variants, making it suitable for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments aboard naval aircraft carriers. Its wingtips also fold to allow for more room on the carrier’s deck while deployed.
The F-35C also has the greatest internal fuel capacity of the three F-35 variants. The F-35C carries nearly 20,000 pounds of internal fuel for longer range and better persistence than any other fighter in a combat configuration. And, like the F-35B, the F-35C uses probe and drogue refuelling. This allows the Navy to operate its carriers a safe distance from the threat while its fighters reach remote targets.