Home » Aviation » Navy Stands Up Joint Strike Fighter Wing to Oversee F-35C Operations, Training, Manning


Navy Stands Up Joint Strike Fighter Wing to Oversee F-35C Operations, Training, Manning

Two F-35C Lightning II fighter jets, attached to the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, fly in formation for a photo exercise in Lemoore, Calif., Nov. 16, 2018. VFA-147 is the first U.S. Navy Operational F-35C squadron based out of Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore. US Navy photo.

The Navy has stood up a Joint Strike Fighter Wing in Lemoore, Calif., that will oversee training, manning and readiness of all the service’s F-35C squadrons.

Capt. Max McCoy, the commodore of the squadron, told USNI News in a recent interview that having a single point-person overseeing all Navy efforts related to operating and maintaining the new airplanes will prove to be a smart decision.

“The F-35C is unlike any other airplane we’ve had to date. It brings unique capability; how we sustain and maintain it is different; and it offers new ways of training our pilots to fly it,” he said.
“So breaking it out as its own type wing is absolutely critical so that we could give it the 100-percent focus that it needed to mature the program and to integrate it into the carrier air wing and the carrier strike group as fast as we can. So I think standing up a wing and building a staff whose sole purpose in the world is focusing on the uniqueness of this airplane and making sure we succeed as fast as we can was critical and absolutely the right decision.”

In many ways, the JSF Wing will operate like any other type wing in the Navy that oversees any of the other planes or helicopters in the carrier air wing. McCoy oversees all the F-35C squadrons and reports directly to the Commander of Naval Air Forces. However, whereas the other communities have an East Coast and a West Coast wing, the JSF Wing in Lemoore will be the sole wing, to ensure the growing F-35C community has a single voice and a single path forward as the Navy learns best practices for operating, maintaining, sustaining and manning the fleet.

A first priority for the new wing, which formally stood up on Oct. 1, is getting Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 ready for operational testing and an initial operational capability (IOC) declaration early in 2019.

Two F-35C Lightning II fighter jets, attached to the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, fly in formation for a photo exercise in Lemoore, Calif., Nov. 16, 2018. US Navy photo.

VFA-147 will pave the way for the fleet as the squadron to go through the IOC process and then the first to deploy. McCoy said the squadron is fully manned and operating like any other squadron in the Navy. Pilots have been conducting field carrier landings ashore, ahead of heading out to sea to conduct carrier qualifications on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Once all the pilots are carrier-qualified in early December, the squadron will be declared safe for flight “and then they’ll be off to the races operating” ahead of their formal testing.

“147 has absolutely knocked it out of the park; they have had zero defects on all of their inspections, their maintenance programs as well as their weapons inspections,” McCoy said, noting that he doesn’t see any hurdles between now and the squadron’s safe for flight certification, which is the last IOC-related event the JSF wing can control. Once certified, the squadron will work with the Navy’s operational test and evaluation community to prove they are capable of sustaining themselves at sea. McCoy stressed the IOC decision will be events-based, not time-based, but officials previously told USNI News they’re hoping for a February IOC declaration, and McCoy said “I don’t foresee any hurdles or anything that we can’t overcome or would prevent us from declaring IOC on the current schedule.”

Once IOC is declared, VFA-147 will have to ensure all its pilots have redone all their certifications – an F/A-18E-F Super Hornet pilot transferring to the F-35C cannot transfer over any certifications and must requalify before the first deployment, due to the aircraft being so different, McCoy said. The squadron will be focused on completing those qualifications quickly so they can move on to workups and eventually a first deployment as part of a carrier air wing in 2021.

An F-35C Lightning II launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) on Aug. 30, 2018, in preparation for a photo exercise in support of dual-carrier sustainment and qualification operations with the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group. US Navy photo.

McCoy and the JSF Wing are not solely focused on that squadron, though. They are overseeing the work of two Fleet Replacement Squadrons to train both brand new pilots and those transferring from other plane types. They are working with test pilots and Top Gun pilots to sort out tactics and best practices. They are working with the F-35 Joint Program Office and manufacturer Lockheed Martin to nail down maintenance and logistics issues. And they are coordinating with resource sponsors at the Pentagon and with F-35A and B leadership in the Air Force and Marine Corps to log lessons learned and best set the F-35C program up for success now and down the road.

For a job that requires so much multitasking, the Navy picked the right person. McCoy’s biography shows an intimate knowledge with the F-35 and the counterparts he’ll have to work with during this assignment. The former Blue Angels pilot has commanded a strike fighter squadron and a carrier air wing, worked as an F-35 requirements officer for the director of air warfare at the Pentagon (OPNAV N98) and served as vice commander of the Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing. McCoy told USNI News he looked forward to being able to take feedback from his operators, compare it with what his joint and international partners have seen, and then pump that knowledge into the requirements and budgeting process.

An F-35C Lightning II fighter jet, attached to the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, flies in formation for a photo exercise in Lemoore, Calif., Nov. 16, 2018. US Navy photo.

For now, there’s still a lot to learn, but McCoy said the F-35C maintainer base was growing quickly and that pilot production should accelerate soon too. The F-35C community is about 400 or 500 strong, with more than 50 pilots to date.

“Right now we’re small in the sense that we’re a small community in the Navy, we’re building experience with our sailors and our pilots, we’re getting more aircraft,” McCoy said.

On the maintenance side, he said, the F-35 program is nascent enough that Lockheed Martin and the JPO are still shaping maintenance and logistics are handled for all the services and for international partners.

“Right now we all work through the Joint Program Office and through Lockheed Martin, so collectively we’re tied together. … We will specifically have to figure out how to fit into that as we go to the ship and we start doing more ship integration and more shipboard operations, and then looking long as we get ready to deploy in the near future. I think the advantage of where we are now in the Navy is that we’ve had the opportunity to see the Marine Corps fly the F-35B on deployment and take those lessons learned and then apply them to where we’re going. Obviously, we’re all tied together in doing exercises and continuing to refine how we sustain and support logistics for the aircraft, not just for the C model but for the A and B.”

Overall, the commodore said, “we will get better faster the sooner I get the airplane in the hands of sailors and junior officers who are either going to maintain or fly it. As any platform, it doesn’t matter what the capability is, but it’s those individuals that, the more they fly it, they discover better ways of doing things. And that ultimately leads to operational readiness improvements: for the sailor side of it, the guys working on it, that means they get up jets much faster, more mission-capability. And then with our pilots, as they fly it and they understand the mission systems better, they’re capable of refining the tactics we use. So I think what we’ll see is exponential growth in the next few years as we bring more of the junior folks into it and they learn how the system operates. And I will tell you right now, talking to the people who work for me, they really like working on the airplane and they like flying the airplane. So those are good signs, and I think there’s a lot of positive stuff in our future.”

  • Leroy

    More indication of a Death Spiral – especially for the Navy’s F-35C. : )

    • Bulldogdriver

      Wait a minute! The death spiral is more real than ever! But for the SU-27/30/34/35 family. 🙂

  • Bulldogdriver

    Personally, i cannot wait to a Northern Edge exercise featuring multiple squadrons of land-based USAF F-22A/F-35As and USMC F-35Bs operating jointly with carrier based F-35C/F-18/EA-18Gs to overwhelm a simulated high-end adversary. That will be one exercise that will show case the future of US combat air power.

    • Rocco

      Already happened called red flag!!

      • Curtis Conway

        This year. Didn’t hear a lot out of it, but everything that did come out was good. The nose gear oscillation problem is resolved. The F-35C is the closest thing to an F-14 replacement we have, it’s just not Mach II capable, but it does everything else. In the Hi-Lo mix of air combat and Strike the F-35C will make a great quarterback for the Navy/Joint Team in any theater.

        • Rocco

          Copy that, however in my opinion more like the F-4 Phantom’s as all 3 branches used them as we are again with the F-35’s!! F-14 was an interceptor originally until it became a bombcat!! Lol. Even though it’s not a Mach 2 capable 1.8 is close! Plus it’s engine are tuned for max thrust from Mach .895-1.5!

          • Curtis Conway

            The fastest I ever saw an F-14 fly was just breaking Mach during a PMCF hop. However, the spec for the original was for Mach 2.25. We just never used them like that, though many a time in the early days the Ready Five would launch followed closely by a KA-3 because they would need it after going Buster into the threat for several minutes.

          • Rocco

            Lol copy that. The Fid never deployed with Tomcats until it’s last 2 deployments. I did 3 deployments with All Phantoms, the last A-5 deployment, A-4’s A-7’s A-6E & EA-6B’s KA-6 , S-3’s .Oh E-2C. No Hornets yet!!

          • Curtis Conway

            Working with a Vigi on deck must have been interesting. I know it is for the pilots. Your CAG looks more like what I’m used too, although I did go aboardt Lincoln for the first all F-18 squadrons and one of them was USMC. I remember Adm Prueher sitting in his chair on the Flag level doing paperwork and watching the Marines do their Nigh Quals. It was hilarious when one Marine came aboard and caught the wire, and stayed in burner for quite while…and he was saying out loud “we got you son”.

          • Rocco

            Yes & you don’t want to be behind one lol, had same engine’s as the Phantoms!! My Avatar is actually not my CAG! VF-74 1st in Phantom’s was.

          • Curtis Conway

            I had no idea you were in VF-74. I went through FARP with VF-74 in Oceana, but they were flying Tomcats then. They had an exchange pilot from Germany who was coming out of Phantoms and transitioning into Tornadoes and was getting some swing-wing time. Of course his call sign was “Baron”. Had a blast and learned a lot.

          • Rocco

            Lol “Baron”, very cool! Yeah after my time the Squadron went with Tomcats! My last bird was the S model, boy what a bird that would of been had the Navy invested more money on them. But the New Hornets go the glory!

          • Curtis Conway

            The Navy has been all F-18 for quite some time. Things are about to change.

          • Rocco

            Well I don’t know! I don’t think we’ll get as much F-35’s as Super Hornet’s.

          • Curtis Conway

            Let’s see, J-79 aircraft were the F-4, F-104, B-58, and the RA-5C (A3J) Vigilante.

          • Rocco

            The F-105 had a version of the 79….J-75!…. Export version prototype F-16 & F-20!
            As well as Mach 2.5+ Israeli Kifir!! No joke lol
            Let’s not forget Less Shockley’s School bus!! Lol🚌🚍

          • Curtis Conway

            Thanks for the review. I had read about the F-16/F-20. Actually saw the bus going down the runway here at Midland Spaceport, and man it is LOUD!

          • Rocco

            Copy that!!

          • Curtis Conway

            The 25 upgraded Kfir C.1 F-21A Lions were flown by the US Navy Aggressor Squadron on both Coast. The Kfir was utilized because they both shared the common characteristic of being very fast (Mach 2+) and fast-accelerating aircraft with relatively poor maneuverability. The MiG-23 was targeted as the “enemy” aircraft because at this time the MiG-23 was being introduced in very large numbers, and was a very capable aircraft compared to earlier Soviet types. These USMC F-21 aircraft were replaced by F-5E aircraft when the F-21s were returned in 1989 (although this left the training units without any aircraft capable of accurately simulating the Mach 2+ and fast-accelerating MiG-23).

          • Rocco

            Copy that!! We have one aboard ship!! Happens to me an Israeli visitor who worked on the one we have!

          • Rocco

            I believe this was called Lend Lease program? God Speed Pres. Bush😇

      • Duane

        I don’t believe the AF’s Red Flag exercises have been reported to feature all three versions of the F-35. The Marines generally stick to their own air to air combat exercises.

        • Rocco

          Sure Duane if you say so!!

  • Marcd30319

    Next up, Top Gun: Maverick in 2020.

  • RunningBear

    F-35C – 30+ 2018, today.
    F-35C – 340 by 2035ish; 260 USN, 80 USMC with 10 aircraft per each squadron and 25-50ish? for the FRS.

    F/A-18E/F – 500 (Block 3) by 2027; 36 squadrons with 12 aircraft per squadron and 25-50ish? for the FRS.
    (Block 3 is 100 new aircraft and upgrade of the existing (400+) Block 2)

    9 Wings for 36 squadrons on 10 aircraft carriers.

    …..so 1 Wing for 1 F-35C Squadron, today; with 30+ more squadrons to come in the next 15 years.
    That supposedly leads to 2 F/A-18E/F squadrons and 2 F-35C squadrons per wing for each aircraft carrier by 2025. Hmmmn!, numbers not adding up; must be more to the “future” story!

    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

    • Leroy

      ” … leads to 2 F/A-18E/F squadrons and 2 F-35C squadrons per wing for each aircraft carrier …”.

      Not according to CharleyA. He says it won’t ever happen. And Charley real SMART! : )

      • Curtis Conway

        think on this . . . over the last couple of years (most of the decade) up to, and sometimes over 1/2 of the F-18s have been parked awaiting maintenance/rebuild. Yet with 50% of the force unavailable for combat operations we have managed to field the birds for every CSG deployment. Moved a lot of birds around we did.

        • Rocco

          Indeed that’s because in a pinch we get er done!!

          • Curtis Conway

            “Improvise…Adapt…Overcome . . . IAO”!!!

          • Rocco

            Heartbreak ridge!!

          • Curtis Conway

            It was in my vocabulary when I pushed by four companies as a Blue Roper at RTC San Diego back in the day.

        • RunningBear

          For the Navy “F-18” generally includes the; F/A-18C/D, F/A-18E/F Blk1, F/A-18E/F Blk2 and E/A-18G.

          On the flight deck; F/A-18C/D Hornet is converting to F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (SBug) Blk1or2?? I suspect the Blk1 (tankers??), with the F/A-18C/D Hornet being revised for the USMC F/A-18A/B upgrade. If you are converting, then squadron flight hours are funded for only the minimum required pilot hours, not for the a/c.

          PS: USMC F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet is the target for the USMC F-35B/C replacements, later??.

          F/A-18E Blk 1 – 57? or F/A-18F Blk 1 – 74? at total -131?. At 12 per squadron, how many are required for A-A tanking per deployment? 12? And….the 72 MQ-25 tankers are IOC 2024!

          BTW, these Blk 1 E/F are the candidates for the 110 Blk 3 replacements, scheduled for 2020/21.

          Birds are “a moving”

          All this said, with USN Blk3 SBugs/540 squadrons/45?, MQ-25/72 squadrons/6? “Are the F-35C/340 squadrons 1? ea. USN/26?/ USMC/8? on the flight deck”?

          IMHO
          Fly Navy
          🙂

          • Curtis Conway

            I get your numbers, but remember our current reality is not planned strength for the long term as envisioned, but a fallback plan to continue to provide service for squadrons engaged with the resources we have. This is simply unacceptable, and readiness and spares must rise (and they are), and getting back on track with the plan unamended must be achieved (maybe). The new Congress will just tie a anchor to the whole mess and throw it overboard over the next two years, and then we will replace them.

          • Rocco

            Agreed

          • Rocco

            Legacy Hornet are being fazed out, just super Hornets except for the Marines C/D as they don’t want Supper Hornet in Lew for F-35B’s!!
            All a & b hornets are in the bone yard. Only the Blue Angles are flying them still.

      • RunningBear

        As I replied to CC;

        “All this said, with USN Blk3 540 SBugs in 45 squadrons, 72 MQ-25 in 6 squadrons, 121 EA-18G in 10 squadrons and 340 F-35C in 26 USN squadrons and 8 USMC squadrons”

        – How do you see the 9 Airwings being assigned on a deployment?

        I believe!, the CAW as;

        – 2 sqd. SBugs Blk 3, – 24
        – 1 sqd. Stingrays, – 12
        – 1 sqd. Growlers, – 12
        – 1 sqd. Hawkeyes, – 4
        – 1 sqd. USN and – 10
        – 1 sqd. USMC of the Litenens Blk 4.2 (Buglite??). -10

        Total of 72 a/c plus various V-22s, H-60s in 2022;
        with room to grow!
        IMHO
        Fly Navy
        🙂

  • jetcal1

    Someone has a good sense of history. VA-147 was the first A-7 squadron.
    As far as hitting it out of the park? Come on, setting everything up during a no-fly transition period when even the tool boxes come built-up to your shop?

    The biggest issues will be getting the shops used to some very complicated yet, fragile GSE and dealing with some new stuff like the 270 VDC systems and a rather “interesting” engine R&I Dolly.

    • Marauder 2048

      720 VDC or 270 VDC?

      • jetcal1

        270 VDC. Corrected post. Thanks for catching that!

  • Ed L

    I miss NAS Memphis

  • Marjus Plaku

    GOOD STUFF! F-35C on airings in 2021! Will be here before you know it. Combined with MQ-25 and Triton etc… fully loaded B-1s and B-52s carrying all sorts of anti ship weapons, you really can command and deny large areas of sea and shore, against a near peer adversary, from a single (air wing) strike group.

    • Rocco

      Remains to be seen

  • Ed L

    You all do realize that one of the greatest test pilots in the United States Airforce said the F-35 was a waste of Money

    • Rocco

      Yeah my hero Chuck Yeager!!