Home » Aviation » VIDEO: F-35Cs Operating in First Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Air Wing Test Aboard USS Abraham Lincoln


VIDEO: F-35Cs Operating in First Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Air Wing Test Aboard USS Abraham Lincoln

An F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter prepares to launch from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on Monday during operations in the Atlantic. USNI News Photo

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, IN THE ATLANTIC – The Navy’s F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has been incorporated into a carrier air wing’s cyclic flight operations for the first time alongside aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 7.

Since the JSF naval variant conducted its first takeoff and landing on a carrier in 2014, the plane has done extensive testing ashore and at sea. But never has the fighter been normalized in this way, with the ship’s flight deck crew treating it the same as any other aircraft onboard. For the first time, F-35Cs launched, recovered and maneuvered around the flight deck alongside F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growlers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes. Previous periods at sea had the F-35Cs operate by themselves in controlled test settings.

USNI News was among several media outlets invited to observe these integrated air wing operations aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rear Adm. Dale Horan, director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration for the Navy, told reporters on the ship that this first operational test event was meant to validate “how the airplane handles on the aircraft carrier, how we do maintenance, how we sustain it while we’re at sea. And then how it integrates with the ship, how it interoperates with communications, data links, other aircraft, and then how we conduct the mission and tie into the other aircraft that are conducting that mission and how effective they are when they do it.”

He said the F-35Cs – which came from both Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 and VFA-147, an F-35C fleet replacement squadron and operational squadron, respectively, out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. – were not simply launching and recovering but also, “conducting missions they would do in combat, if required. Conducting that training.”

An F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter maneuvers aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on Monday during operations in the Atlantic on Aug. 27, 2018. USNI News Photo

The Navy had previously set an objective date for reaching initial operational capability (IOC) in August 2018, which the service will not meet. The threshold objective – the minimum requirement, compared to the ideal objective date – is February 2019, and Horan said he thinks the service can still meet that timeline.

“We are moving in that direction and we will see. We’ll get together after this [operational test] and see how it went and see if we think things are lining up and whether we can meet that. If we can’t, we’ll make a decision and change that schedule,” he said. “Right now it seems that we’re moving in that direction” for a February 2019 IOC declaration.”

An F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter prepares to launch from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on Monday during operations in the Atlantic. USNI News Photo

Ahead of that declaration, the fighters will have to conduct a formal initial operational test and evaluation event at sea, compared to the ongoing Operational Test-I event that does not count towards IOT&E. That evaluation should take place this fall. Additionally, Horan said, a squadron will have to be manned, trained and equipped to operate 10 aircraft at sea; an adequate logistics chain will have to be in place; at least one aircraft carrier will have to be modified, equipped, trained and certified to operate the F-35Cs; and other items.

“Most of those things are coming together, and the main thing really left is to demonstrate operational capability, the capability of the 3F (software) configuration in an operational test,” Horan said, referring to the 3F software variant the Navy is now using.

As for the carrier modifications, Lincoln underwent a mid-life refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) that wrapped up last summer. During that four-year maintenance availability, the ship was outfitted with everything it needs to operate F-35s and was therefore chosen to conduct F-35C operational test and evaluation events. According to current Navy planes, USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) will conduct the first F-35C carrier deployment in 2021.

An F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter preparing to launch from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on Monday during operations in the Atlantic. USNI News Photo

Capt. Putnam Browne, commanding officer of Lincoln, said this current at-sea period is also his ship’s first time conducting air wing operations since coming out of four-year period. Carrier Air Wing 7 had been aboard for three weeks conducting cyclic flight operations, and on the weekend of Aug. 18 one Super Hornet squadron left the ship to make room for the six F-35Cs.

Browne said the new fighters “integrated very well” and that adding in F-35Cs into flight operations has been “basically seamless.”

In replacing a Super Hornet squadron with a Joint Strike Fighter squadron, Lincoln was “replicating what the air wing will look like in the future,” he said.

Horan told USNI News aboard the ship that, in terms of what questions he had going into this first operational test and what he was paying closest attention to.

“Each airplane has its own idiosyncrasies around the aircraft, particularly towing it, moving it around. And until you get an airplane out and mixed with other airplanes, you don’t necessarily grasp those differences. And that’s what we’re doing out here now,” he said.

F-35C Fielding Timeline

US Navy F-35C Joint Strike Fighter lands for the first time on USS Nimitz (CVN-68) on Nov. 3, 2014. US Navy Photo

F-35Cs began arriving at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in 2011 for testing, and by November that year a JSF had conducted its first ground-based catapult launch from Pax River to prove a key component of being a carrier-based jet. In 2012, the final test jets had arrived at Pax River; a carrier-landing assistance tool began ground-based testing, and the first external weapons test flight took place.

In 2013 the first F-35Cs were delivered to a squadron – in this case, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

On Nov. 3, 2014, an F-35C made its first-ever arrested landing on a carrier, aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68). The jets then conducted 11 days of sea trials aboard Nimitz, completing Developmental Test-I with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) and meeting all test objectives to prove interoperability between the ship and the planes and carrier suitability for at-sea operations. In September 2015 DT-II was conducted aboard USS Eisenhower (CVN-69).

In September 2017 USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) conducted its first F-35C at-sea operations, and in December Lincoln hosted carrier qualifications for the Navy’s first nine pilots who will conduct at-sea F-35C operations. Though this event aboard Lincoln represented a significant step forward for fielding the F-35Cs, the ship would still have only been launching and trapping F-35s during each cycle for the safety of the pilots involved. The ongoing integrated air wing operations are unique in that they force the flight deck crew, the leaders in primary flight control, the maintenance teams in the hangar and more to balance the needs of all aircraft types together, throwing the Joint Strike Fighter into that mix for the first time.

  • Taking its together at a snail’s pace.

    • RunningBear

      Amen!
      🙂

  • Andy H

    Can somebody explain to me why an F-35C squadron only consists of 10 aircraft? That seems unreasonably low.

    • Duane

      10 ship squadrons have been established to date for the F35. 12 ship squadrons have been used with other aircraft, but I’ve not seen a rationale for 10 vs. 12.

      • Curtis Conway

        it’s called capability. Reliability should also be in that equation, but we haven’t proved that one yet.

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      I am pretty sure the *REAL* reason is money; that is, they realize it has got to the point where we’ll never have an entire set of 12-aircraft squadrons for all the air wings on all the carriers. I am pretty sure they have even realized they will be using mixed F/A-18 E&F and F-35C air wings for basically ever now, when they never had thought that would be the case only 5+ years ago etc. So the reduction to 10 makes a big difference over the course of all the squadrons on all the aircraft carriers (especially @ $150 million per etc.) — And the “public” reason is they say how great it is because the F-35 can do more with less etc…. so of course it’s BETTER to only have 10 because of course we don’t NEED those “extras” lol.

      If only the Navy had adopted the carrier–based F-22.

      • Rocco

        The minimum amount of jets aboard per Squadron is 9 the maximum is 12 ! Flight status is 10 per sorte. Dedicated jets are for alert status which the aircraft are doing the missions! Othe two are for spares! Typically squadrons have a total of 14 & keep two jets based either abroad forward deployed like at siginella Sicily for example. Why only 10 F-35C probably not enough inventory yet.

      • Al L.

        There was never a plan for more than 2 squadrons of F-35 per carrier. Plans since the beginning of JSF have been for mixed air wings of F-35 and F/A-18 E,F . The number of JSF squadrons has fluctuated from 1 to 2 since the late 90’s. I just looked up the post 2015 planned airwing as it was set in 1998 or 99. It included 10 JSF, 36 F/A-18 EorF, 4 EA-18(x) as its fighter/bomber component. The Superhornet was to be replaced by a future aircraft never by the F-35C. The C was primarily to replace FA-18C and provide the L.O. penetrating ISR, SEAD & attack capability lost by the cancellation of the A-12. This is why the Navy accepted reduced maneuverability vs range and lift in the C with a larger wing. It has a secondary air superiority role. Numerically the airwing’s primary air superiority system was to remain the Super Hornet i.e. the planes planned to flying CAP to protect the CVBG were and remain Superhornets. Any suggestion otherwise has been speculation or conjecture and never part of a formal Navy plan. The Navy (perhaps rightly) has been skeptical of the ability to maintain a large number of L.O. aircraft under CVN operating conditions which are rough on aircraft.

      • RDF

        I am sure the Handler appreciates 10.

    • Graeme Rymill

      There are 12 Super Hornets in a squadron. However there are only 10 classic Hornets per squadron so this isn’t a new development. I don’t know the rationale behind this.

    • RunningBear

      In the ever evolving F-35 story, the USN F-35C squadrons (10 a/c) were to replace the USN F/A-18C squadrons (10 a/c) but the USN F/A-18C has been retired and reassigned to the USMC. The three remaining USN F/A-18C squadrons are assigned to NAS Oceana.
      🙂

    • E1 Kabong

      How many E-2’s/C-2’s/CH-53’s/MH-60’s are in a squadron?

      • Blain Shinno

        5 E-2s. 5 Growlers.

        • E1 Kabong

          Exactly.

    • Blain Shinno

      The problem is not the airframes per squadron. The problem is the number of fighter/attack squadrons per strikers. At the end of the Cold War most carrier wings had a total of 60 fighter/attack jets – 2 F-14, 2 F/A-18, and 2 A-6 squadrons. When Clinton cut the defense budget these numbers were reduced. During the war on terror some airframes were replaced by helicopters.

      The Navy needs to transition the CVW from fighting the war on terror to one focused on near peer adversaries. At the minimum they need to increase their F-35 buy and get the MQ-25 out to the fleet to extend the range of the CVW.

      • Duane

        Typical air wing is 9 squadrons, of which 4 are fighters. Transitioning from anti-insurgent wars may or may not affect the makeup of the air wing. The Navy still needs its E-2s, and the choppers and tiltrotors are extremely useful for everything from air guard/life guard, ASW, SuW, air replenishment, air ambulance, etc that will never go away.

  • Bubblehead

    Anybody know how many F35C’s the USN has up to this point? Can’t be too many. They have been buying them at a snail’s pace.

    I hope this aircraft can fulfill its job description & what LM said it can do. Last I heard the F35C could not carry Sidewinders on outer pylons without a major structural redesign. The wings were having issues supporting the load in high g maneuvers. The USN specifically planned on using this as a common loadout. 4 internal AMRAAMS (not nearly enough) and 2 external sidewinders (which is harming stealth & aerodynamics).

    The USN needs an upgrade. The USN is still lacking an air superiority/air interdiction fighter to defend the battle group. The old tomcat fulfilled this role admirably. High speed is a most (to interdict ASCM), a lot of capacity/AMRAAMS, a much larger range than current fighters, and a massive AESA radar to pick targets in clutter including ASCM nap of the earth to designate targets for SM6. I guess the USN will have to make due with the F35 because nothing is on the books.

    On the other hand China has found out what Russia found out the hard way. The SU-37 series is not a aircraft carrier friendly fighter. Its design is based on speed and is not stable at lower speeds needed to land and take off from carrier. It doesn’t appear they have a back up option even in the works yet either.

    • Duane

      The last production total I saw, earlier this year, was 36 C models had been delivered to the USN and USMC, representing about 12% of total F-35 production. That proportion is expected to hold more or less throughout the F-35 production run, with 260 to the USN and 80 to the USMC.

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      I have wondered this before and it leads me to wondering other things — is there a place you can look up things like that, How many F-35 (As, Bs, Cs etc.) we have, how many AIM-120s we have in stock, etc. — particularly I have interest in our VLS-launched weapons because I have always questioned the fact we maintain a lot more VLS ‘silos’ than we do have actual weapons to put in them. I have had this discussion before on here, and one or two people have explained that the official Navy deal is that it’s done because 1- it’s too expensive to have more missiles and B- it’s (and I quote someone from here who I guess was actually familiar with this) “a shell game” — ie, nobody knows if the DDG that is in one spot has 60 Tomahawks and 20 SM-2s, or 12 Tomahawks and a ton of ASROCs, etc. — which I guess I can accept, I just don’t like it. Anyway I digress— it would be nice if there was somewhere we could look these things up… Wikipedia is of course sometimes helpful, but it’s *always* just Wikipedia , which is to say, not reliable.

      • E1 Kabong

        Weapon stocks are classified.

        • Bubblehead

          Its classified but the annual budgets give a total for how many missiles are Authorized every year. Wouldn’t be too difficult for an adversary like China to have a pretty good guess on what our inventory is. Now whether additional missiles are provided under the pretty large black budget is another matter.

          • E1 Kabong

            How many are fired off in tests and exercises?

            How many are in maintenance/overhaul?

            Budgets don’t tell the whole story or give exact details.

    • Rocco

      I believe around 25

      • Blain Shinno

        That is so pathetic. A handful with VFA-101 and VFA-125. A couple with VFA-147, VX-9, and VX-23.

        • Duane

          Nothing pathetic about it. The development of the C model is right on schedule as established 5 years ago, with IOC set for Feb 2019, and ramping up production by 2020 to full rate. About 10% of the C model production has been delivered, with the next 90% over the next decade.

          The plan was always to have F35Cs gradually replace all the Hornets, and serve side by side with our Super Hornets until the latter are eventually replaced by sixth gen fighters starting in the mid to late 2030s … each successive generation leapfrogging two earlier gen aircraft.

          • Blain Shinno

            Right on schedule with the Navy’s slow roll of getting the F-35C to the fleet. The sooner they get airframes the soon they can bring down the cost of the C. The USAF gave up procurement of new 4th gen fighters in order get the A model sooner and bring down costs.

            I’d rather have an F-35 with Block 3i software than a Super Hornet any day.

    • RunningBear

      With the two delivered this year for FY-16 the total will be 30.

      LRIP 4,5 upgraded as Block 2B (11 a/c total)

      LRIP 6,7,8 delivered as Block 3I (15 a/c total)

      LRIP 9&10 are delivered as Block 3F (4 a/c total).

      30 a/c divided up as;

      FRS squadron

      – VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” @ Eglin AFB,

      – VFA-125 “Rough Raiders” @ NAS Lemoore

      Fleet squadron
      – VFA-147 “Argonauts” @ NAS Lemoore.

      🙂

      • RunningBear

        LRIP11/12/13; FY17/18/19 are ordering 8/10/9 F-35Cs
        🙂

    • Duane

      As to your criticisms of F-35 above:

      The wingtip redesign was not a “major structural redesign” – it was a minor tweak, just to stiffen the tips which were not an issue on the A or B models. That is a routine affair on new aircraft designs, fixed, not a point to criticize. That is what is meant by “development”.

      F-35 HAS a much longer range than current and even retired models. 60% longer range than F/A 18 E/F, 25% longer range than F-14.

      On sensors you are seriously deluded if you do not realize that F-35 has by far the world’s most poweful sensors, including DAS and the most advanced AESA synthetic apperture radar. And sensor fusion and mission data files on every aircraft and missile flying today.

      As to weapons capacity, it exceeds anything ever carried by either Tomcats or Super Hornets, and uses far superior AAMs (AIM 120D and AIM 9X) to what the old Tomcats carried.

      24:1 in Red Flag, undefeated in Marine AA exercises against all the best fourth gens.

      • Bubblehead

        Saying the F35 is not an air superiority fighter isn’t criticism. Its fact. The USAF has openly stated that fact many times. The F35 was designed from the outset as a penetration attack bomber with a high degree of capability to defend itself. It does that in spades. But that does not make it an air interdiction/a2a fighter. See F22.

        And we were specifically talking about F35B’s not C’s. England is getting the B model with significantly less range. And even then saying 35 has 60% more range than SH is #Fakenews. That’s a great exaggeration. It’s about 10%. But we could argue about this all day because it is determined by configuration.

        • Rocco

          Kudos

        • Duane

          F-35 IS an air superiority fighter, as part of being a multi role fighter/attack aircraft. The F-35 is in fact the world’s best, most capable, most lethal air superiority fighter, including the F-22. The F-35 has far superior sensors than any other fighter. It is the only fighter in the world with sensor fusion and full sensor access HMD … the only fighter in the world with mission data files … has the most powerful airborne computer brain … the only fighter in the world with fully autonomous countermeasures requiring no pilot action to initiate … the only fighter in the world equipped to operate multiple ISR and shooter drones … and deploys the world’s most powerful ECM system built into any fighter aircraft, internally mounted, imposing no drag or taking up weapons pylons … and shoots the two most capable AAMs the US has in its inventory, the AIM 120D, and AIM 9X.

          Oh, and it is stealthy too, but that is only one of very many revolutionary capabilities built in.

          • ron_snyder

            How is that F-35 helmet working? No night carrier landings allowed for the average pilot? Your unqualifed praise for the F-35 is the same as your love of the LCS. Most SME’s that I read say the F-22 is by far the better Air-to-Air fighter. The “magic” of the F-35 has not been proven in combat.

          • Duane

            The existing HMD works great. The Navy has limited night time use to experienced pilots temporarily until next year. At that time a new version with organic LEDs will eliminate the issue with darkness levels on existing LEDs.

          • ron_snyder

            Works great- except at night. Night carrier landings, such an unexpected application.

        • Duane

          The B has less range than the A or C, but has about 50% greater range than the other VSTOL it is replacing, the Harrier … and still has greater range than the Super Hornet which of course is not VSTOL.

          • RDF

            Harrier was notoriously short legged.

        • Curtis Conway

          ROE is what gets our people killed in all warfare areas anyway. ‘Combat’ is not ‘Law Enforcement’ (e.g., what used to be the Department of WAR!), and equating the two, and using our military forces as International Police is not their proper use. We should be Direct and Specific when we communicate with those who oppose civilized activity to the point that we must ‘Send the Fleet/Army/Air Force or Marines’. We don’t shoot first and ask questions later . . . but . . . telling them ‘we will shoot if you cross this line’ which we have announced as a policy already for the planet to hear, and also repeated on diplomatic channels (perhaps followed by a phone call from the president), and repeat the message ingressing to the merge, should prevent the merge from ever happening. They turn into chaff clouds, and we tell them ‘we told you so’. They will only TRY to merge with us ONCE!

        • RDF

          The USAF said that about the F16 also because it was not it’s published function. Best furballing aircraft to come along ever. F35 will be fine. It is fine. Its just difficult to conceive all the system advantages.

      • Blain Shinno

        A bigger issue is the lack of airframes than the ability to carry AMRAAMs internally. Four is not great. But I’d rather carry AMRAAMs than AIM-9Xs if I had to choose. One area that needs to be addressed going forward is fleet defense.

        With its range, F-35s in hunter/killer teams – some in stealth mode and some in missile truck mode, supplemented by SHs, would be a formidable force in fleet defense and OCA.

        • Duane

          Block 4 will provide 6 AIM 120D internal for AA ops, plus the two AIM9X on the wingtips.

          If max stealth is not an issue, a F-35 can carry up to 16 AAMs, internally and externally. One ship in a sortie group can serve as a AAM truck and the other ships can go min RCS and shoot AAMs from the AAM truck.

  • ElmCityAle

    RIP headphone users with that USNI introduction soundtrack. Might want to lower those levels a bit, USNI, to make them more normalized with the rest of the audio levels.

  • Jack D Ripper

    single engine over the water,,demon2?

    • E1 Kabong

      A-4 Skyhawk…. Harrier….. Super Etendard….F-8 Crusader…..A-7 Corsair….

      • Rocco

        F-11,F-3, F-9!!!

        • E1 Kabong

          Sea Hawk!
          Banshee!
          Forger!

        • RDF

          Ahhahaha. Go get em.

  • b2

    I read the characterization as being a “first operational test event” above? Is this the formal OT test for COTF in order to justify a full rate production decsion? Does anyone know?

    I wonder how the organic overhead tanking is going with those two aircraft types. They will be spending a lot of time doing that task… It’s better to work out ALL the bugs before operating blue water.

    • Curtis Conway

      I wonder if there has been a contingency for bringing on board a F-35B. It will happen . . . someday.

  • E1 Kabong

    You’re welcome.

    Always happy to help the handicapped by pointing out the obvious to them.