The F-35C, the carrier variant of the supersonic, multi-role joint strike fighter, has completed carrier qualifications and is nearly ready to bring unprecedented stealth technology to the Navy’s fighting force. VFA-147, the “Argonauts,” will deploy later this year, marking the debut of a fifth-generation catapult takeoff arrested landing fighter in the fleet.
VFA-147, a squadron based in Lemoore, California, is part of Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2), which deploys aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). CVW-2 is composed of three F/A-18 Super Hornet squadrons, one F-35C Lightning II squadron, one EA-18G Growler squadron, one E-2C Hawkeye squadron, one Helicopter Maritime Strike squadron (HSM) and one Helicopter Sea Combat squadron (HSC).
In September of 2020, the Vinson successfully completed several exercises, including flight deck certification and carrier air traffic control center certification designed to ready the carrier for deployed operations. The recent time at sea marked the first time that CVW-2 and CVN-70 fully integrated and operated together since the addition of the F-35C.
“Since then, the air wing has completed training in Fallon, [Nevada], and will be gearing up for their next underway period, early next year, aboard USS Carl Vinson for TSTA (Tailored Ship’s Training Availability),” Capt. Matthew J. Thrasher, Cmdr. CVW-2, said in an email in November. The Vinson and air wing will complete a series of additional workups and certifications in preparation for future operational tasking, including a fall 2021 deployment.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Bock, public affairs officer for Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing, through multiplatform integration, CVW-2 will provide fleet commanders the ability to achieve an advantage across multiple domains: air, land, sea and electromagnetic against any adversary.
The carrier variant of the F-35C differs from the F-35A, which takes off and lands the same as an ordinary airplane, and the F-35B, which has a short take-off and landing capacity, meaning it can operate in a small airfield or off the deck of carriers that do not have catapults. The C version, flown by the Navy, features a broader wingspan, reinforced landing gear ruggedized structures, durable coatings and folding wings. It is designed to stand up to harsh shipboard conditions.
More than a fighter jet, the aircraft has the ability to collect, analyze and share data in new and dynamic ways. One noteworthy item is the aircraft’s ability to integrate seamless data sharing, which according to Bock makes “every participant in the battlespace smarter, more lethal and more survivable.”
The F-35C’s avionics equip the pilot with real-time access to battlespace information with spherical coverage. Likewise, commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, immediately receive data collected by the F-35’s sensors, empowering them with instantaneous, high-fidelity details of ongoing operations.
According to Bock, the F-35C is a game-changer for carrier-based aviation. She notes that the integration of the aircraft will allow the entire strike group to effectively engage and survive a wide range of rapidly evolving threats, both air and surface, in a contested battlespace.
“The F-35 is bringing unprecedented stealth capability to carrier-based aviation. What that means to CVW-2 is we are now taking those fifth-generation capabilities and we are integrating them into a carrier wing. . . Everyone has leveled up in order to take the entire Carrier Strike Group to a place it’s never been before with capability and technology that’s never been available before,” Bock said.
For Thrasher, the training has been an opportunity to integrate the new aircraft with the entire strike group and to build skills at the squadron level.
“There are individual and command level skills at play. As individuals, aircrew hone their warfighting skills and squadron maintainers gain proficiency at troubleshooting and fixing combat systems. At a unit level, the squadrons iron out how they fight as a unit, developing trust and confidence in their personnel and aircraft,” he said.
Prior to integrated operations with the air wing, the Vinson underwent a 17-month maintenance availability to receive major upgrades in support of fifth-generation aircraft, including jet blast deflectors able to take the increased heat generated by the F-35C and the addition of a new computer network that supports the unique maintenance and tactical operations functions of the advanced aircraft.
For Thrasher, the updates to the ship have meant more integration between the air wing and ship’s company, something crucial to the everyday success of carrier operations. He notes that flight operations require detailed coordination between ship’s company and the air wing squadrons, and flight deck certification was an opportunity to develop that relationship further.
“In the carrier environment, teamwork is everything,” Thrasher stated in a release. “Our sailors and aircrew are focused on the task at hand and the path forward to deployment. Our success with the Vinson team is a direct result of the dedication, training and deployment-ready mentality we embrace daily.”Read comments