Home » Aviation » Preliminary F-35C Feedback is Positive, As Formal Operational Testing Begins This Fall

Preliminary F-35C Feedback is Positive, As Formal Operational Testing Begins This Fall

An F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter assigned to the Rough Raiders of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 125 performs a touch and go on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is beginning the formal operational testing of its first stealth aircraft to determine how well the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter performs against stated goals and requirements, the admiral heading the integration office of F-35C said Wednesday.

Rear Adm. Dale “Woody” Horan said the arrival of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., aboard carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) was the start to answering the question “does it do what we want it to do.”

This summer, F-35C aircraft from both VFA-147 and VFA-125 participated in air wing integration exercises with F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes aboard carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). This integrated air wing operation was a prelude to the formal initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) that is taking place starting this fall.

While he reported anecdotally pilots’ excitement about the plane’s performance, including very stable landings, Horan said official reports are not yet complete.

“We still need to see the aircraft configured in operational tests,” he said, speaking to the Northern Virginia Council of the Navy League. This will be the first close and extended examination of how the Joint Strike Fighter fits with an air wing before the Navy fields the new plane more widely throughout the fleet.

Operations from the Lincoln integrated air wing tests already showed the need to understand how the F-35 operates alongside the rest of the Navy. In August, an F-35C from Lincoln suffered serious engine damage while conducting an aerial refueling with a Super Hornet, in what was characterized as a Class A accident by the Navy. Both the refueling aircraft, which suffered minimal damage, and the strike fighter landed safely following the mishap. There were no reported injuries to the pilots. Results of the investigation are now yet complete.

In answer to an audience question, Horan said the F-35C “is completely different than any airplane we’re flying.” He was referring to its low-observable stealth characteristic, along with newer technological capabilities and longer reach. He added those kinds of changes mean that pilots training to operate the new plane “are going to have to be a little different than a legacy pilot.”

The aircraft’s advanced sensors, in particular, coupled with its capability and range require that pilots “envision the mission differently than you and I.” But that will only come with time, as the Navy continues to buy more new planes so more pilots can train with them and more squadrons convert to the new platform.

Horan told USNI News, “we want to do things differently” with the Joint Strike Fighter, “and there are ways to do it differently.” He said the Navy is talking with the Air Force about the lessons it is learning with the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter’s operations in Syria and Iraq to see how they apply in sea service planning.

As an example, for an F-35C future mission, he said, “I may want to send them out as singles” rather than four strike fighters operating together to do a job.

Horan added, “We are sending a couple of F-35s out to every Top Gun [class at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev.] to work with fourth-generation aircraft” to learn how to communicate and operate effectively together. Likewise, he didn’t foresee large obstacles in operating with allies, such as the United Kingdom that is introducing the Marine Corps variant F-35B to its operations and has its own fleet of legacy aircraft, or with allies and partners not in the F-35 program. He acknowledged that “countries use different weapons” and “countries use different ways of communicating,” but those differences can be addressed.

“That’s our job” to operate with others, whether they operate from the sea or from land. “That’s what naval aviation has always done.”

The aircraft “has the backbone” to do that, Horan said in his talk.

The admiral also said the Navy was still working through determining how to sustain the airplanes, from a logistics and a maintenance standpoint.

On the maintenance side, training and fielding maintainers for the Navy’s variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is on track for now, Horan told USNI News. They are training with maintainers from the Air Force and Marine Corps at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and are then sent to squadrons. For years, the Air Force has been reporting a shortage of up to 4,000 maintainers for its aircraft fleet and has tried to address the need with bonuses and other incentives.

While meeting current needs for F-35C maintainers, Horan added a note of warning for the future, saying “the Navy has been falling short” in meeting its recruiting goals of adding 7,500 sailors for a larger fleet. Continued shortfalls would affect all ratings.

  • CharleyA

    Wow, still a bit lukewarm compared to the gushing we get from the Marines and USAF. And sending out as a single? That screams “Armed Scout” and limited buy.

    • Marauder 2048

      You can’t expect a well thought out CONOPS from a service that gushes over Harpoon II+ while taking 15 years to adopt a JASSM variant.

      • wilkinak

        That wasn’t the end to the sentence I was expecting. I was thinking “You can’t expect a well thought out CONOPS from a service that devised the LCS CONOPS.”

      • sferrin

        And the cancellation of LRASM-B (which actually would have deserved the moniker, “game changer”).

        • CharleyA

          The Navy wants improvements, and will re-compete in a few years. Meanwhile, it’s the updated maddog, I mean Harpoon II+.

    • Duane

      The Navy is more hide bound and conservative than the Marines in particular,and the Air Force too. That conservativism is why we had a fleet full of obsolete heavy battleships and heavy cruisers at the outset of World War Two that proved to be unsurvivable … instead of building many more fleet submarines and aircraft carriers that together accounted for more than three quarters of enemy shipping losses, though they accounted for only a tiny percentage of the fleet size.

    • Leroy

      And you scream clueless!

    • USNVO

      Or, it means that they are confident it can thrive and survive as a single so they can better utilize the, initially, limited assets. Sending out 4 F-35Cs when 1 can do the job means you wasted whatever the other 3 F-35Cs could be doing. What other tactical aircraft was operated as a single? Oh yeah, the F-117. Definitely used primarily as an armed scout.

      • CharleyA

        Which is not why the aircraft was procured, but maybe because Super Hornets have essentially replaced the legacy Hornets – instead of the original plan for the F-35C to do so. Things are still pointing to a nominal air wing consisting of one squadron of F-35Cs per boat for at least another 10-15 years, starting about 2022-23. I guess it depends on how well the new avionics on the Block 3 Super Hornet turns out, and how much further LM can reduce acquisition and O&S costs.

        • USNVO

          Nice revisionist history. The Navy targets for the F-35C clearly indicate it was planned to replace the missing long-range strike element (objective of 700nm carrying 4000lbs, virtually identical to the A-12 requirements) amongst other things. So being able to operate alone and unafraid, at least for now, dramatically increases the utility of the aircraft and immensely expands its utility. So even though it was a numerical replacement for the F-18A-D, it is not taking over that aircrafts missions.

          • CharleyA

            Revisionist history? Nothing has even occurred yet – except the Navy is buying far more Supers than planned since the F-35C is 7 years late. It is speculative however. The Navy’s PR / Marketing efforts have always stated that the F-35C will replace the F/A-18A-D.

          • USNVO

            The Navy is buying more Super Hornets because the Block Is are being retired instead of upgraded. That is the result of using up their service life way faster than anticipated ever since Southern Watch and the fact they can’t be upgraded like the Block IIs, total numbers are remaining the same.

            And you may want to reread the last sentence from my previous post, it doesn’t say what you think it says.

    • Spencer Whitson

      It quite clearly is not something they’ll be doing all the time, but using the F-35 as an armed scout is not a bad idea. It’s got a very good radar, a pretty good IR camera, and is much less likely to be seen and killed when doing so. If you’re in combat, you want to find the enemy as quickly as possible, so you can kill him before you get killed. If a flight of four F-35s could spread themselves out in single ships and locate the enemy for the strike wave of the rest of the squadron or two squadrons that’s sitting on the carrier waiting for the word go, why wouldn’t you? You don’t need to use two-ships or four-ships for that mission.

  • Curtis Conway

    The F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter Combat System is a revolutionary leap in how a combat aircraft functions in the battlespace. We can’t get them in the field fast enough. The upgrade of the F-22 Raptors with some of this new technology should happen ASAP. Some of the concepts used in the F-35 should be incorporated into other platforms like armored equipment. Situational Awareness is everything in combat.

    • delta9991

      Likely would have the upgrades slotted in during the 2025 time frame (midlife updates) for the Raptors. I suspect we’ll see a derivative of EOTS in the spaces reserved for an IRST that was cut during development and, maybe but unlikely, cheek mounted APG-81s. Possibly a scaled AETD engine for better range as well. Just spitballing, but I don’t think it’s well out of the range of possibility

      • Curtis Conway

        it’s a shame we can’t put a tail hook on it. Vectored thrust will almost get it off the deck with the cat and the new AETD engines.

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      I really wish the Navy had built & bought F-22 Sea Raptors …I think a Ford-class carrier with 4 squadrons consisting of 1 each: F/A-18Es, F/A-18Fs, F-22Ns & F-35Cs would be *A May Zing* son… amazing. The thought of the new F-22/F-35 hybrid “F-57” that Japan funds really makes me think this is the one chance we could correct a prior mistake and get the Navy the Tomcat of the 2050s. I realize it’s not likely but that doesn’t make it less awesome!

  • RunningBear

    “We are sending a couple of F-35s out to every Top Gun to work with fourth-generation aircraft” to
    learn how to communicate and operate effectively together….”
    Not to take this out of context, but…. it is representative of the naivete about 4th gen. communications. As soon as the F-35 communicates with Link16, it is localized by the opposition EA/EW systems, as are all of the 4th gen. a/c that communicate with Link16. Link16 is designed to radiate to all a/c (omni-directional/ everywhere) and becomes detectable, whereas the F-35 communicates with MADL in the LPD/LPI form (undetectable, unlocatable). The simple solution is to add the minor MADL modification to one 4th gen. a/c per flight and that flight lead can communicate to the 4th gen. a/c without compromising the location of the F-35 flight.

    Fly Navy

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      Yes definitely the simple solution.

      RunningBear for President of all minor MADL modifications.

      • RunningBear

        Yes, you are correct. The F-35 should leave the 4th gen. friends behind and let them fend for themselves and proceed on to it’s stealth mission, regardless of their exposures. After all this pilot will be in the new more expensive $70M stealth a/c!


        Fly Navy


        OBTW, that simple upgrade is one 48# avionics box and one antenna, it’s called a NG Freedom 550; the latest in legacy wear!

        • Ser Arthur Dayne


          From a regular joe-sixpack guy, mostly a loser, but hopefully a good-guy loser, Thank you very much for your service sir. And never think there aren’t plenty of regular joe-sixpack losers like myself who appreciate what you did/what people do on a daily basis.

          What did you fly, if I might ask?

          Thanks again sir.

          • RunningBear

            Submarine Hunter, caught a few.
            Fly Navy

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            Nice, nice, they must be a real beeotch to reel in, heavy as they are!

    • Michael Cunningham

      its about redundancy tho
      that one 4th Gen aircraft gets taken out they’re blind again
      in a real fight AWACS / Sats etc. are immediately going to get taken out
      F-35’s , any and all of them, can act in that role
      can they be seen and taken out ? .. yes , but there will be more than one F-35 out there and not always together either
      and they can also defend themselves , vector GEN 4 a/c independently of one another (redundancy) and act as their own combined (undetectable) strike force
      we’ll lose Lightings .. that’s what war is all about
      but the goal is to retain the role, the capacity and the mission
      that’s why the F-35 is (and will be) a game changer ..

      • RunningBear

        Sorry for the following dissertation,

        But this is about 4th vs. 5th Gen. communications, as much as those less knowledgeable about EA/EW tactics.

        – 4th Gen. is about “broad”casting an omni-directional signal with sufficient power and frequency to achieve the desired distance/ range, detectable by all.

        – 5th Gen. is about seeking a desired receiver and establishing a Low Probability of Detection and a Low Probability of Intercept of a broadbandwidth data link for digital comm. Think of 5th Gen.(MADL) comm. as a “laser” type comm., but in the 2GHZ range.

        The DOD has known about line of sight/LOS comm. long before the F-22/35 were in concepts by their DOD EA/EW technologies. That knowledge base is what developed both non-compatible a/c stealth comm. systems. MADL, at least has a broadband bridged network design for their WAN and can accommodate a couple of dozen nodes.

        Fortunately, enough ire has risen to force a device similar to the NG Freedom 550 as a common retrofit for the 4th Gen comm. systems. For most 4th. Gen. comm., it is adding a comm. interface board and a single antenna to each a/c. Simple, inexpensive and integrated into the existing comm. systems (no knobology required). 4th Gen. comm. includes all ground, ship, aircraft legacy comm. systems. In a 4th Gen a/c the MFD would add a new screen display/SA where the interfaced data would appear with indications of anti-air systems and ranges, IFF of all a/c within the 5th Gen. range, and identified air or ground targeting opportunities, etc..

        5th Gen a/c can only use 4th Gen comm in “friendly air”; in “contested air” they are instantly localized by any 4th Gen transmission and that mitigates it’s 5 Gen a/c tactics. In the world of passive EA/EW, a 4th Gen a/c is equivalent to a Brass Band on Parade; radar, radar alt., tacan, IFF, radios, (any systems emissions by antenna) etc., etc..

        Fly Navy

        Fly Navy

        • wish I could Fly Navy
          in the meantime I wish we had
          truly 5 Gen that would not be mitigated by passive EA/EW
          just a dumb barrister
          Like you say an add on that detects, reflects, inflects
          “switches off” the passive EA/EW
          leave that to the best: DOD

          • RunningBear

            – Passive EA/EW is a function of physics and is a known technology that is developed in most militaries.

            – The US has several active 5th Gen non-training/ testing squadrons and are building more every day.

            – The legacy 4th Gen. comm. in the US is being addressed for ground, ship and aircraft applications.

            Eventually, the tactics for the legacy 4th Gen. aircraft squadrons will be enhanced by passive technology and techniques. Crawl, walk, run for each technology and organization is limited by schedules and budgets.

            Fly Navy

          • Nothing is simple.
            Be prepared every day and way
            When you get back take some time off to
            Smell the roses.
            Go Navy

          • BatmanCatlle

            disqus_WkbdIlxW0R easy

    • great idea!

  • RDF

    Must be rough duty getting that Top Gun class assignment. Awesome shore duty. Reminds me of my VX-5 days, back when there was a VX-5.

  • Duane

    At this point, Navy leaders don’t know what they don’t have. As the admiral said, it’s a learning process, and the Marines and the Air Force are years ahead of the Navy in learning that the F-35 is far more than a multi-role fighter – it is the backbone of an entire system of networked warmaking. F-35 pilots describe it as a “flying computer”, equiipped with the world’s best sensors and built in ECM, that just happens to be stealthy too.

  • b2

    Seems like an honest, genuine appraisal of the new aircraft. However I always they did an OT before they made a production decsion or built a RAG… well that was the old days I guess…

    BTW, he is the director, Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration for the Navy not a fleet bubba anymore.

  • peterjohn936

    The F-35C are far more capable that the Harriers they will replace.

    • RunningBear

      Not exactly, the “Bee” is replacing the Harriers and with a 15,000+# ordinance load; and several more enhanced functions.

      Fly Navy

  • F35WhiteElephant

    Navy doesn’t want to admit that they bought a lemon and only has spread sheet workers and the USAF equivalent of Russian troll farms hyping it up like a used car.

    • RunningBear

      Wow!, that’s amazing! Where to begin, care to expand on that!
      Fly Navy