The US Navy has announced that the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is ready for operational use after meeting all requirements.
The F-35C achieved initial operational capability (IOC) after the Navy’s first F-35C squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, completed aircraft carrier qualifications aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).
Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter programme, which is regarded as the country’s most expensive weapons system.
Lockheed Martin vice-president and general manager of the F-35 programme Greg Ulmer told Naval Technology: “We congratulate the Department of the Navy on achieving Initial Operational Capability with its fleet of F-35Cs. This milestone is the result of unwavering dedication from our joint government and industry team focused on delivering the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter jet in the world to the men and women of the US Navy.
“As we celebrate this achievement demonstrating the progress of the F-35 programme, we’re also setting our sights forward to ensure the US Navy is ready for its first F-35C deployment.”
Two other variants of the F-35 are already in service with the US Air Force and the Marine Corps.
The IOC declaration represents a significant milestone for the US Navy and the F-35 programme.
US Naval Air Forces commander vice-admiral DeWolfe Miller said: “The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win. We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force.”
The mission-ready aircraft is equipped with stealth technology, avionics, advanced sensors, weapons capacity, and range.
The advanced aircraft is capable of providing capabilities, such as air superiority, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defences and close-air-support, as well as advanced command and control functions through fused sensors.
These capabilities will provide superior battlespace awareness and lethality to pilots and combatant commanders.
US Navy Joint Strike Fighter Wing commodore captain Max McCoy said: “We will continue to learn and improve ways to maintain and sustain F-35C as we prepare for first deployment. The addition of F-35C to existing Carrier Air Wing capability ensures that we can fight and win in contested battlespace now and well into the future.”
The Navy has either built or refurbished several facilities at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore to facilitate specific F-35C requirements related to maintenance and training.
The infrastructure includes a pilot fit facility, centralised engine repair facility, pilot training centre, and a newly remodelled hangar.
Meanwhile, the USMC intends to transition four F-35C squadrons for assignment to Carrier Air Wings for deployments.
–Additional reporting by Talal Husseini.