The Buzz

The U.S. Navy Has Finally Qualified the Carrier-Launched F-35C for Combat

The Navy's stealthy carrier-launched F-35C is now moving much closer to combat readiness after conducting "carrier qualification" exercises from the USS Carl Vinson off the coast of Southern California.

Carl Vinson air operations officer Cmdr. Joshua Hammond said carrier qualifications are important because they allow Carl Vinson to practice launching and recovering aircraft while helping qualify new pilots, according to a Navy statement from aboard the Carl Vinson.  

"Being at sea for FRS (fleet replacement squadron) CQ gives us practice at what we do on deployment: launching and recovering aircraft," Hammond. "We can't always be underway with Carrier Air Wing, so these operations help us stay sharp and hone our craft while helping new pilots gain proficiency." (Full Navy statement HERE)

Alongside the carrier qualifications on board the Carl Vinson, the Navy was also conducting testing of a special take-off mechanism known as the "hold back bar." This is a technology which helps determine key elements of a carrier catapult launch such as the needed amount of thrust, speed and steadiness determined for a particular air frame.

"The reduced setting of repeatable release hold back bar performed well both test and fleet are pleased with the progress made in reducing the force of the oscillation seen during catapult shots. The fleet will continue the assessment of the bar," Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Joint Program Office, JSF, told Scout Warrior.

Weapons preparation also continues to progress as part of the Navy's push to bring the F-35C into combat. The F-35C has now been armed with a large, 5,000-pound load of weapons as part of a strategy to prepare the emerging aircraft for air-to-air engagements and air-to-ground attacks against enemy air defenses.

During developmental testing on the USS George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean last year, the F-35C took off with one GBU-31, two AIM-120s and four GBU-12s along with its 25mm gun mounted in a pod beneath the aircraft, Navy officials told Scout Warrior.

Being engineered for a carrier, the F-35C's 51-foot wingspan is larger than the Air Force's F-35A and Marine Corps' F-35B short take-off-and-landing variants. The fighter is configured to carry 19,000 pounds of fuel and 18,000 pounds of weapons. An empty F-35C weighs approximately 3,500 pounds. It can fire two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles and two 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions.  The F-35C can reach speeds up to Mach 1.6 and travel more than 1,200 nautical miles.

The F-35C is also able to fire the AIM-9X along with other weapons; in the future it will have an ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb II - a high-tech weapon now in development able to track and destroy moving targets from great distances using a tri-mode seeker. The SDB II uses millimeter wave, laser and infrared guidance technology.

Previous testing of the aircraft involved catapulting the stealth fighter off the aircraft carrier runway deck with a much lighter load of weapons; the full complement of armaments for the F-35C is designed to maximize its potential mission envelope and allow it to drop laser and GPS-guided precision Joint Direct Attack Munitions, use air-to-air weapons in the event that the aircraft needs to dogfight or destroy enemy drones and fire a 25mm gun for, among other things, the prospect of close-air support or surface attacks against enemy ships.

Previous DT-III testing also evaluated new high-tech adjustments to the aircraft’s Helmet Mounted Display, or HMD. The sensors in the pilot’s Generation 3 HMD have been improved with new firmware to better enable pilots to target enemies and perform missions at night, Navy developers added.  

Assessments of the F-35C, designed to bring the aircraft into operational service by 2018, have also included efforts to refine a precision-landing technology called Joint Precision Approach & Landing Systems, or JPALs.

JPALS, slated to be operational by 2019, works with the GPS satellite navigation system to provide accurate, reliable and high-integrity guidance for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, Navy statements said.

Also, Navy information described JPALS as a system featuring anti-jam protection to ensure mission continuity in hostile environments.

“JPALS is a differential GPS that will provide an adverse weather precision approach and landing capability,” a Navy statement said.

Prior to carrier-deck take-offs by two F-35Cs aboard the USS George Washington, the Navy extensively tested take-off and landing operations at two land facilities, Lakehurst, N.J. and Patuxent River, Md.

With a broad wingspan, reinforced landing gear, ruggedized structures and durable coatings, the Navy's first of its kind F-35C is engineered for harsh shipboard conditions while avionics equip the pilot with real-time, spherical access to battlespace information and commanders at sea, in the air and on the ground with an instantaneous, high-fidelity single picture view of ongoing operations.

The Navy  F-35C is the services' first-ever stealthy carrier-launched multi-role attack fighter, engineered to perform a wider range of missions than any carrier aircraft has done before.

The emergence of a first-of-its kind carrier-launched stealth fighter is intended to give the Navy more combat attack flexibility and attack sophisticated enemy air defenses or fortified targets from a sea-based carrier. Such an ability can allow a maneuvering carrier to hold targets at risk from closer proximity if land-bases are far from the combat vicinity.

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