F-35 Lightning II Moves Closer to Joining the Fleet
As the U.S. Navy develops the fleet of the future, the Surface Force continues to increase combat readiness by harnessing new ships, weapon systems and emerging technologies. They also continue to build upon their long-standing relationship with the U.S. Marine Corps to project power ashore in a broad spectrum of missions.
On October 28th, five of the seven Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft scheduled to embark on board the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) arrived to begin some of the final shipboard testing events needed before F-35B detachments can begin operational integration. Moving forward, two of the F-35B aircraft are scheduled to begin the third shipboard phase of developmental tests to evaluate F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) operations in a high-sea state, shipboard landings, and night operations, while the other five aircraft are slated to conduct routine operational testing.
Sailors and Marines, along with embarked civilians and contractors, will execute these comprehensive series of tests in order to provide Marine aviation personnel with more data and insight into how the F-35B will operate from the decks of amphibious ships. Some tests will simulate extensive shipboard aircraft maintenance, while others will help establish the boundaries of safe operation for the F-35B outfitted with a 3F software configuration. As significant, they will also focus on preparing maintenance crews and pilots for their upcoming first operational deployment of the F-35B aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1).
These tests are important in providing the Navy-Marine Corps team more at sea opportunities to refine the range of requirements needed to safely and effectively manage the emerging requirements associated with integration of technologically advanced STOVL aircraft.
The F-35B is a great fit for amphibious operations, where the desired effect is to rapidly launch Marine Corps power into harsh shore environments, based on several unique design features. The aircraft has STOVL abilities coupled with a designed intended to reduce the ability of enemy defense systems or aircraft to detect or engage with weapons because of the aircraft’s Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth capability. As well as the ability to share real-time (networked) access with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground to give U.S. and coalition partners a view of ongoing operations and battlefield information.
Amphibious Assault Ships also feature aviation-centric ship design that includes an enlarged hangar deck, larger aviation maintenance spaces, a significant increase in parts and equipment storage space, and an increased aviation fuel capacity. But even the first-in-class USS America had to undergo extensive upgrades to the flight deck, interior spaces, and combat systems, to better accommodate the fifth generation fighter aircraft.
As the F-35B comes to the surface fleet the partnership between the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Air Combat Elements is sure to continue to strengthen as we work together to maintain maritime superiority and exert sea control in an evolving global landscape.