Home » Aviation » First F-35Cs for West Coast FRS to arrive next week at Lemoore

First F-35Cs for West Coast FRS to arrive next week at Lemoore

An F-35C Lightning II, attached to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, taxis about Naval Air Station Fallon on Dec. 16, 2016. US Navy Photo

An F-35C Lightning II, attached to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, taxis about Naval Air Station Fallon on Dec. 16, 2016. US Navy Photo

The first F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters will arrive on the West Coast next week as the Navy prepares to ramp up its training pipeline for the next-generation stealth jet designed for carrier operations, Navy officials announced Tuesday.

Four of the single-seat, multi-mission Joint Strike Fighters are scheduled to land at Lemoore Naval Air Station, Calif., on Jan. 25 and join Strike Fighter Squadron 125, a former F/A-18 Hornet training squadron the Navy reactivated on Jan. 12, Naval Air Force officials said in a news release.

The “Rough Raiders” of VFA-125, will become the Navy’s latest squadron to get the advanced fighter designed for its carrier-based force. The squadron will serve as the west coast-based Fleet Replacement Squadron.

The Navy’s first F-35C FRS squadron, the “Grim Reapers” of VFA-101 based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., received its first jets in September 2013 and began training the first groups of pilots and maintainers.

Lemoore NAS, located in California’s central valley, is the Navy’s designated hub for its strike fighter community supporting the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Navy sees the Lockheed Martin F-35C as providing key, critical capabilities to its carrier air wings, which also will include Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets, Boeing EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye multi-mission surveillance and refueling aircraft and Sikorsky MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters, along with Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.

The joint JSF program and Lockheed Martin-built jets have come under heavy criticism, most recently from President-elect Donald Trump, over escalating costs for the jet and continuing program delays, even as the services continue with the jet’s development, live-fire weapons fire testing and upgrade packages including advanced software. The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation also levied some pointed criticism and skepticism at the F-35 program in its FY 2016 annual report issued in December.

But program officials remain on the defensive but confident.

“These accomplishments prove the basic design of the F-35 is sound and test results reinforce our confidence in the ultimate performance the U.S. and its partners and allies value greatly,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 Program Executive officer, said about the F-35 in a Jan. 17 statement remarking on the DOT&E report. “As a reminder, the F-35 program is still in its developmental phase. This is the time when issues are expected to be discovered and solutions are implemented to maximize the F-35’s capability for the warfighter. While the development program is more than 90 percent complete, we recognize there are known deficiencies that must be corrected and there remains the potential for future findings.”

  • Jacek Zemło

    Please, correct the photo caption. Grim Reapers are certainly NOT VFA-41 🙂 Is the plan for VFA-147 to be the first unit trained by VFA-125 still valid?

    • You’re totally right. The caption we pulled from the service was incorrect. Thanks for pointing out the mistake.

  • b2

    Has anyone recognized that last paragraph from a USAF LTGEN is generic and covers (3) vastly different aircraft of the JSF “F-35” series? To be specific is the F-35C for the US Navy REALLY 90% development complete? Who knows, why doesn’t the AirBoss or N-98 stick their necks out and document that supposed “fact”? ….Amongst many other deficiencies that have made there way to the public, we recently learned that catapault shots (the only REAL combat role for this variant) causes measurable pain. Sounds like more than a workaround like issuing Ibuprofen is called for…
    Concurrently, we know the Marine version F-35B MUST be at least 90% developmentally complete, right? We have the Commandant (Infantry) and other Marine generals claiming it is ready for “combat” in these pages. Of course they will all be gone/retired in a couple years and no one will remember their names for accountability in case their expectations weren’t “accurate”…
    Are we really sure? Is it possible the F-35B and C aren’t “ready” in the same way that the MV-22 was not ready in 1999 due to the aggressive nature of the USMC pushing it out to a willing fleet. If you will remember after tragedy struck several times that program took a 6 year reset and it still has “issues” after IOC… Are we repeating history?

    • CharleyA

      We’re still at least 4 years out for F-35C carrier deployment, so there is time. I’m surprised that the landing gear issue wasn’t addressed earlier – it’s been known since 2014. I suppose Navy development funds were prioritized to fix the major warts with the Bravo, and get it out the door albeit with limited capabilities. It does seem that the bits required for carrier service received a low priority with the program. First, the program had to redesign/strengthen the keel to carry trap loads; then it was discovered that the hook wasn’t working; and now we have a damping problem with the nose gear during cat shots that was labeled “not operationally suitable” by fleet pilots. Is it any wonder that the Navy has been reducing its purchases of the F-35C?

      • Marauder 2048

        Recall, this is the same Navy that abandoned a high-end UCLASS after 15 years of development so there’s ample precedent for poor decisions and prioritization.

        • CharleyA

          Yup, not sure of the reasons behind that decision. Clearly McCain wanted to continue development of a robust strike UCAV, but instead got a refueler / ISR / light strike program. I imagine that a more capable UCAV was seen by OSD / JSF mafia as a competitor to the F-35C.

        • Duane

          UCLASS only dates back to mid-2013 when the original RFP went out .. what are you talking about re “15 years of development”?

          The Navy apparently decided to shift the aircraft requirements toward the refueling mission in response to concerns over the so-called “A2/AD” capabilities of China with their so-called “carrier killer” ballistic ASMs. I can understand why the Navy would want increased range for carrier based stealth penetrators. But I think that was an overblown concern. The best defense is a good offense, so the most cost-effective way to deal with China’s as-yet unproven BASMs is to shoot them down, using our well-developed AEGIS systems and AMMs like the SM-6 and others yet to come, including rail guns which completely flip flop the cost numbers for anti-missile defense in favor of defense.

          Sooner or later the Navy will come back around to an offensive stealthy unmanned penetrator operating from carriers. Maybe with the change in leadership at DOD that change will come pretty soon.

          • Refguy

            UCLASS is a direct descendant of a formerly joint program that was started in the late ’90’s.

          • Duane

            Well, you can also say that UCLASS is a direct descendant of the Wright Flyer and would have no more meaning or relevancy. The military, including the services themselves and DARPA are always working on wide variety of potential weapons systems, but UCLASS is only 3 and a half years old and seems to be suffering from indecision at the Pentagon.

            Perhaps the new SecDef and Navy Secretary can impose some more direction to the program. I still believe the notion of a stealth tanker is pretty low on the priority list for the Navy today.

          • Refguy

            Names and people change, and USAF dropped out, but look at pictures of contracted efforts from Phantom Works circa ’96 and Northrop Grumman company funded work circa ’00 and you will see configurations that look a lot like the UCLASS renderings. Even X-47 is more than 3 and-a-half years old.

          • Marauder 2048

            UCAV-N (a joint DARPA/Navy effort) began in 1999; NG had it’s cranked kite configuration finalized by the year 2000!

            “The Navy apparently decided to shift the aircraft requirements toward
            the refueling mission in response to concerns over the so-called “A2/AD”

            No. The Navy retired the S-3 with the result being that 20% of the Super Hornet sorties are tanking which, in five wet configuration, chews up the birds at an accelerated rate. CBARS/MQ-25 is intended to relieve the Super Hornet of the tanking burden.

            ” The best defense is a good offense, so the most cost-effective way to
            deal with China’s as-yet unproven BASMs is to shoot them down, using our
            well-developed AEGIS systems and AMMs like the SM-6″

            Wouldn’t the best offense be attacking the ASBM TELs before they can launch or at having a long endurance UCLASS with a deep magazine of terminal or boost-phase interceptors?

          • Duane

            The UCLASS is/was not a replacement for anything else, S-3 or otherwise. It represented a new capability, initially as a heavy lift stealthy attack UAV, then a lighter lift/lower cost attack UAV, and most recently as a stealthy refueling tanker to support F-35C missions. Not even sure it is headed anywhere now, but with that wide assortment of missions and vague RFPs and revised RFPs, it’s anyone’s guess exactly what a UCLASS is supposed to be or do. It also makes impossible to figure out what is derived from.

            As for attacking land-based ballistic anti-ship missiles of medium to long range – specifically, the Chinese DF-21 and DF-26 respectively – it would be impossible to post a long endurance stealthy attack aircraft above Chinese soil for any extended period of time to loiter and attack. The mere incursion of an aircraft into Chinese airspace is an act of war, and would be treated as such, and stealth is proven to enable short term incursions, but not for long term loitering as you suggest.

            For defense against BASMs, the choices are only cruise phase or terminal phase, well after a launch is detected by our systems. The principal defense systems are ship-based AEGIS with land based THAAD, the former of which is well developed over decades, while the latter is a relatively new system.

          • Marauder 2048

            Two Air Force PhDs were recently deployed to understand how/why the Navy botched UCLASS so badly: “Innovation Lost: The Tragedy of UCLASS” by Tuner and Wickert.

            UCLASS and its technology development ancestors were focused first and foremost on strike & ISR in highly contested environments. The subsequent descoping has been baffling and inexplicable.

            Penetrating Chinese airspace would not be required for the anti-ASBM role but surviving within the reach of Chinese long range SAMs and interceptors would be.

            An airborne weapons layer capable of attacking ballistic missiles in boost or in terminal is an old idea; see MDA’s efforts on laser equipped HALE UAV for boost phase intercept. And Col. Corbett (USAF Ret), the guy behind NCADE has long been advocating for a dual use terminal/boost phase air-to-air interceptor.

      • Duane

        To resolve the landing gear damping issue requires many takeoffs at all possible configurations of weight, weight distribution, and pilot reactions as well as any available adjustments on the cat system to fully define the scope and severity of the problem. That detailed certification testing was not performed until last year. Armed with the extensive test data obtained therefrom, a proper fix can then be determined.

        Knowing that a problem exists, and fully defining all parameters of the problem, are two very different things. Apparently you have never been involved in technical testing programs before – it shows.

        • CharleyA

          Thank you for your insights, but your insults complete the story.

          • Duane

            Stick to what you know – testing and development obviously isn’t your strong suit.

          • kpb80

            But it doesn’t excuse the fact that the F-35C has these landing gear issues in the first place.
            I’ve worked in testing and development for a while and one conjecture would be that poor design cannot be overcome by even the most extensive testing.

          • Duane

            ALL aircraft have issues in design … that’s why the F-35 is still a developmental aircraft. Testing by itself doesn’t fix anything, but extensive testing is necessary for systems that are exposed to a large envelope of operational parameters, such as variance in the loading of an aircraft whose takeoff weight can double from near empty to max certified takeoff weight. That is a helluva large envelope to contend with. This particular problem is only a problem at the bottom of that envelope, which is unlikely to be experienced in normal or typical missions where most aircraft take off with full or near full fuel loads, and also carry weaps.

            If you have worked in testing and development, then you know that no design is ever perfect, all designs come with flaws, as well as trade-offs. Finding the right combination of performance always involves testing and adjustment – you can’t wholly rely on designing everything with a computer that has to function in the real world. I don’t care what product or machine or process you’re designing, it’s always a process of successive approximations confirmed by testing. That was the very first thing I was taught in engineering school. It’s never been any different than that reality in my several decades of engineering since then, including construction, and operations of complex systems.

            In this particular instance, we don’t know what the exact design flaw is. It could be as simple as changing the diameter of an orifice in the damping system in the nosegear. It could be as major as changing the size or even the type of nose gear. It is entirely fixable. It is being fixed, and it will soon be fixed. Indeed, most of the timeframe involved in completing the fix is putting the modified nosegear through another full set of certification tests to ensure that the fix is good.

          • Gen. Buck Turgidson

            That odd ego being yours?

      • b2

        Obviously you get to see the “yellow sheets” for the F-35C. I don’t . I try to stay in my own lane and do not seek out that information so all I know is what I see/feel when it is flying and what I read in places like USNI that the program chooses to reveal, begrudgingly.
        I grew up in the basically “pre-SuperHornet world” of a “purpose-built”, carrier airwing that ruled the seas under Reagan. Since then I have not been happy with the SuperHornet series, nor particularly the premature and stupidly shortsighted retirement of the S-3B for many reasons. Further talk of unmanned systems for those roles as a panacea for all of naval aviation’s woes, really nauseates me. No I wouldn’t expect a submariner CNO to catch on…
        The SuperHornet (E-F-G Boeing line) is a “bird in hand” as you note and must be leveraged against the planned buy of the F-35C; however, that niche that the S-3B once provided is something that is the number one priority fuel for this gas guzzling airwing. The carrier airwing is like a self licking ice cream cone today with the all-SuperHornet wing..Add in the thirsty F-35C and it’ll be a recipe for collapse (too much risk). Just my opinion.

    • Duane

      It is very simple – the F-35 program is 90% complete as its longtime program manager, Gen. Bogdan, says. Everybody knows that the program involves three models, for three different services, and that the requirements for each model are distinct and very different in several respects.

      Most everybody who has paid attention to the program knows also that the A and B model have been declared initially operable, and that the C model is not anticipated to be declared such until later, probably FY-2019. Everybody should know that the most challenging environment for operating fighter/attack aircraft is on a big deck CVN, involving low takeoff and approach airspeeds (requiring larger wing area), heavy shocks imposed on the aircraft from hard landings (otherwise known as “carrier landings”) and from the catapult launches, plus very tight windows for landings (the “island”, parked aircraft, and persons located adjacent to the landing area, and the landing “runway” itself pitches and rolls with the sea) , and operating in a saltwater spray environment with all the challenges of corrosion. The C model also is fitted with some different weapons than other models will typically use, such as anti-ship missiles.

      There’s nothing to criticize in the article or the General’s statement.

      • NeilMarshall

        Chris Bogdan is a Lockheed Martin salesman who has been caught out cooking the numbers on more than one occasion. 90% complete is bullshit.

        • Duane

          No, Gen. Bogdan is no such thing … but your stupid remarks are typical of the gaslighting Putin trolling anti-F-35 commentary.

          • NeilMarshall

            Do check your facts instead of making infantile comments

          • Duane

            You call General Bogdan a liar and now claim that is a “fact”?

            Please provide us the link to the courts martial convicting General Bogdan of lying and fraud, and then perhaps you can claim your wild and stupid statement to be about “facts”. Until then, blow it out your hindquarters.

          • Gen. Buck Turgidson

            sounds rather nbc ish

      • b2

        Exactly, as I said above, his declaration that it was 90% complete must be based on some metric for all three vastly different aircraft (I used the term generic) yet the author of the article seems not to distinguish that “fact”. How could any citizen coming in here reading that article pick that fact out? IMO, they couldn’t. Hence my criticism.
        Re the “carrier suitability” stuff you expound on and the “carrier aircraft requirements”, you then mitigate the F-35C’s publicly known deficiencies like that “pain” on the cat I recently read about. You must work w/Mr. “Leroy”, a frequent poster on anything “JSF”, especially the “B”, who must work for LTGEN Bogdan directly or indirectly. He ain’t all bad- he’s been to the old Cubi O-Club (or he has pictures), but he is pretty partisan for this T/M/S program. 🙂

        • Duane

          You’re trying to make “something” out of “nothing”. Give it up. You’re just whining.

          I don’t work with anybody on threads. I just relate facts and provide reasoned, fact-based logical analysis.

          • b2

            Re my “whining”…

            I have zero interest in the F-35B or C professionally but as a taxpayer, nor am I particularly a Hornet love,r and you’ll never hear me babbling about bringing back Tomcats.. However, I do know carrier aviation and have been working in it/for it for 40+ years.

            As such my observant eye sees the B and C flying regularly so I can actually see/feel it. Have you? My gut feel after those 40 years of participation and 6 years living at sea on carriers is that the F-35C (Navy version) appears to be a heavy, overburdened “hog of a jet” that is gonna irritate everyone because of the noise (FCLPS will have to be done out of CONUS!), and will never exceed the capabilities of its predecessors, especially the GEN4 purpose built aircraft. GEN4 to5 means nothing to me unless the new product is as good or better than what it replaces.

            I like to think I “relate facts and provide reasoned, fact-based logical analysis”, too. BTW, I ain’t no troll from Kiev…

          • Duane

            So you are not a pilot, just an observer? Funny that you totally contradict the first-person interviews with qualified F-35C pilots who say that the F-35 has the best flying qualities of any carrier aircraft that they ever flew … and that it is clearly the easiest aircraft to land on a carrier, ever, and which the Navy says is so easy and great flying that they can reduce the number of required carrier landings by half over those required to qualify in the Super Hornet and increase the sortie rate by 40% over the Super Hornet. They also love its suite of sensors and sensor fusion that allows pilots to focus on killing bad guys and not on keeping the aircraft flying or tracking incoming enemy missiles.

            By the way, the F-35 weighs empty less than a Super Hornet, can carry a much larger fuel load (18,000 pounds vs. 14,400 pounds), and whose single engine produces more thrust (28,000 lbf w/o afterburner) than both of the Super Hornet engines combined (26,000 lbf w/o afterburner. The F-35C also has nearly double the effective combat radius of the Super Hornet (630 nm vs. 390 nm), and carries a slightly larger weaps load (18,000 pounds vs. 17,750 pounds). The performance numbers for the F-35C with the anticipated performance of the new engine will be significantly better still, in thrust, and in fuel economy and range.

          • b2

            I have over 700 cat shots and I never felt “pain” from them. After having seen many thousands of landings and spending nearly 4k hours in Navy jets I think I can judge a “hog” when I see one…. Re the DT pilots impressions: that is their job- tout the product, there ain’t any Chuck Yeagers anymore. Who doesn’t like a new cell phone every year? Of course it has “better flying qualities” to them over the Hornet they probably flew. What would you expect them to say? They are military test pilots paid for by the “program” to do developmental testing. Of course they are advocates. That may convince Joe the plumber, but not me. Be real.
            Everything you discuss re the numbers and “possible” performance are from the “glossies” (company literature). Show me hard data. The weapons load and range are pure BS. I do not believe them. Bottom line is we keep getting products that can’t achieve operational performance their predecessor Naval Aviation weapon systems did. SuperHornet to the Tom-BombCat , A-6, S-3 carrier jets it replaced, P-8 to P-3, Ford Class to Nimitz; I can go on…. This continues the trend.
            The only thing I will acknowledge to you Duane is it can be called “stealthy”. to this day I am not sure what that really means (it isn’t 1991…) but surely, most third world countries with inadequate IADS may never see it coming. Potential peer adversaries- not so much.

          • Duane

            So according to you all pilots of F-35s are liars. Except when they report pain from the cat shot. Very selective of you, guy.

            Not a persuasive argument coming from someone who admits he has never flown a single hour in an F-35.

            If you want to see hard data instead of publiclly-released performance specs – the same kinds of specs reported for all other aircraft, and are just as subject to dispute as you say the F-35 numbers are – then all you need to do talk to the pilots who fly them, since you claim you are a member of the same fraternity of carrier qualified pilots … which apparently you have never done, since you didn’t quote a single pilot here who says what you say who has actually flown an F-35 on a mission.

          • b2

            No I haven’t flown a single hour in a navy jet in 25 years but I can tell an expensive pig that will hurt the carrier airwing when I see one. I have nothing to add. You did not read or understand a word I said. Enjoy your F-35C while you have it

          • Tom Sherman

            i’m “just a taxpayer” & hit this site by accident but will bookmark. the military is one bunch of corrupt incompetent bastards. give it to duane good. the skorpion is a plane that is many times cheaper to buy and maintain. i was told that could replace the f-35 b2. could it?

          • NeilMarshall

            Duane wouldn’t recognise a fact if it stared him in the face.

          • Gen. Buck Turgidson

            and of course always correct?

      • USNVO

        Not only that, but the quote is generic and there is no reason to believe it was directed about the F-35C specifically. In fact, there is every reason to believe it was not and was only tied to the F-35C by the author of the post. Having said that, since the combat systems, communications, cockpit, engine, etc., the really difficult parts, are identical it is probably closer to the truth even for the F-35C.

  • Ed L

    Well something needs to be done, from all I have been reading the F/A-18 airframes are on their last legs. Is that true or not.

    • Duane

      No – not exactly true. The very oldest Hornets, primarily operated by the USMC, had issues because of their very intense use in the recent Middle Eastern wars, and many had approached or exceeded their design operating lifetime of 6,000 hours. The Navy mostly operates the newer Super Hornets, and in fact the Navy is still buying new Super Hornets from Boeing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, to fold into the air fleet along with the F-35C as it reaches IOC.

      The delay in getting the F-35B to the USMC resulted in a decision in 2015 to put quite a few of their old Hornets into Boeing’s “life extension program”, which was a complete refurbishment of the airframe extending its operational life another 50% to 9,000 hours. This put a big load on the depot program, of course, so they’re working very hard to catch up, but the Marines expect to be able to meet their minimum availability objectives fairly soon – I believe by around the end of this year.

      • Centaurus

        I LOVE the sound of that, “The Middle Eastern Wars”.

  • Curtis Conway

    About four new squadrons of Super Hornets and a couple of squadrons of Growlers will get the F-35 Program back on track (LOL).