The Future of Aviation in the Surface Fleet
From combat operations to humanitarian assistance efforts, the Surface Navy has a long history of partnering with our U.S. Marine Corps brethren to project power ashore in a broad spectrum of missions. Together we are a mobile, lethal, flexible instrument of national power, unequalled in reach or scope.
In honor of National Aviation Week, and today’s National Aviation Day, we look ahead to where that combined effort, in the near future, will begin a new chapter in this storied relationship. In October 2016 USS America and an embarked Marine Test and Evaluation Unit will conduct the final stage of F-35B Joint Strike Fighter developmental testing required before regular fleet operations commence with work ups for USS Wasp, USS Essex, and their respective assigned Marine Expeditionary Units, starting in 2017.
This enhanced warfighting capability goes beyond historical upgrades to existing airframes. It introduces a new era of aircraft to surface operations.
The aircraft’s manufacturer highlights new advantages of this ‘fifth-generation’ aircraft as being able to “dramatically reduce” the ability of enemy defense systems or aircraft to detect or engage with weapons “due to (its) Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth capability”; as well as sharing “real-time (networked) access to battlefield information…with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground for U.S. and coalition partners (to provide an) instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations.”
In addition to leveraging new technologies, the aircraft can fly like a plane and land like a helicopter via its short takeoff and vertical landing abilities. That capability coupled with its supersonic capacity make the F-35B a great fit for amphibious operations, where the focus is on rapidly launching Marine Corps power into harsh shore environments. The aircraft even has an astounding 18,000 pound ammunition capacity which can be quickly configured to meet various mission requirements.
Adopting such an impressive evolution in air power required some modifications in ship design and maintenance practices. Using lessons learned from the initial Joint Strike Fighter’s at-sea testing aboard USS Wasp, multi-purpose and general purpose amphibious assault ships will receive an upgrade to their flight deck construction with a thermal spray coating applied to support long-term operational sustainability. This will help the deck surface withstand the increased exhaust heat produced over previous airframes and distribute that heat to protect the ships infrastructure below.
The Marine Corps reported the “F-35B…aircraft reached initial operational capability on July 31, 2015, when a squadron of 10 F-35Bs was declared ready for world-wide deployment.”
Before F-35B Joint Strike Fighter operation capabilities join the Surface Force, USS America must complete a planned maintenance availability period in San Diego and conduct a series of sea trials designed to build a strong working relationship between ship personnel and the Marine Corps team.
We are excited about the aircraft’s potential role in sea control!