The “Black Knights” of U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 have taken their next step ahead of deploying on Navy aircraft carriers for the first time.
The squadron of Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters officially attained full operational capability, the service said in a news release issued last week.
“Many hours were spent maintaining aircraft, launching and recovering aircraft in Miramar, at other military facilities, and aboard the ship to conduct the training required to meet these goals,” Maj. Derek Heinz, the operations officer for VMFA-314, said in the release. “The Marines of VMFA-314 have gained confidence in fighting this aircraft and feel confident we can do so in combat if called upon.”
The “Black Knights,” which are based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif., achieved initial operational capability late last year, USNI News reported at the time.
The squadron, which will deploy on the Navy’s aircraft carriers, are part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
“VMFA-314 is currently continuing its preparations towards future deployments by conducting tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA), marking the first F-35C squadron to conduct TSTA in the Marine Corps,” the Marine Corps said in the release. “This training will consist of communication rehearsals, medical drills, flight operations, and shipboard drills conducted while underway, ensuring the squadron is prepared to deploy in support of maritime campaigns.”
The squadron’s benchmark comes as the Marine Corps continues its Force Design 2030 initiative, an effort to modernize the service for operating in a region like the Indo-Pacific. The service’s most recent force design update issued in April said the Marines were still assessing the correct combinations of F-35Bs and F-35Cs. The report also identified F-35 maintenance as a concern.
“Regardless of the final [Approved Acquisition Objective] for F-35, we will be unable to generate a competitive warfighting advantage for the fleets and joint force if we are unable to maintain these aircraft due to a shortfall of qualified maintainers,” the report reads. “Our current model for retention of these critical personnel is failing. We must change the talent management model if we are to realize the full potential of this capability.”
The Marines are replacing their legacy F/A-18C/D Hornets with squadrons of F-35Cs to meet their commitment to deploy squadrons on Navy aircraft carriers, in addition to their F-35Bs for the Navy’s amphibious ready groups.