US Navy Photo
By Kris Osborn - Managing Editor - Warrior Maven
US Navy leaders have announced that the first-of-its kind carrier-launched F-35C stealth fighter will deploy for its first operational deployment on the USS Carl Vinson -- in 2021.
The anticipated historical deployment could be accelerated by the 2019 budget proposal which supports a transition of the F-35C program from a developmental phase to more formal test and evaluation. The Navy plans to declare the aircaft operational later this year, Rear. Adm. S.D. Conn, Director, Air Warfare Chief of Naval Operations, told Congress.
“Stealth technology and advanced integrated systems enable the F-35C to counter rapidly evolving air-to-air and surface-to-air threats. Whether the mission requires the execution of strike, Close Air Support, counter air, escort, or electronic warfare, the F-35C is vital to our future,” Conn testified.
The emergence of a carrier-launched stealth fighter is intended to give the Navy more combat attack flexibility and an improved ability to fight sophisticated enemy air defenses 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. As a 5th-generation fighter, the F-35C will be able to exceed the attack capabilities of the existing F/A-18 Super Hornet by having an ability to operate over higher threat areas, detect targets from much farther ranges and relay sensor data more efficiently.
With a broad wingspan, reinforced landing gear, ruggedized structures and durable coatings, the Navy's F-35C is engineered for harsh shipboard conditions. Its avionics equip the pilot with real-time, spherical access to battlespace information. The aircraft is engineered to provide commanders at sea, in the air and on the ground with an instantaneous, high-fidelity single picture view of ongoing operations.
Lockheed Martin photo
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. 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, according to Navy information.
The F-35C is also able to fire the AIM-9X. 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 and has now been tested on an F-35, Raytheon developers have explained.
The new stealth Joint Strike Fighter will join the carrier air wing and fly alongside the F/A-18 Super Hornet, E2D Hawkeye surveillance planes and other aircraft. Over the next five years, the Navy plans to acquire as many as 60 or more of the new fighters, Navy officials have told Warrior Maven.
The F-35C is engineered with a new technology called Delta Flight Path which helps pilot land on a carrier deck more easily, Pentagon F-35 developers say.
Test pilots and engineers credited the F-35C's Delta Flight Path technology with significantly reducing pilot workload during the approach to the carrier, increasing safety margins during carrier approaches and reducing touchdown dispersion.
Carrier landing is never easy as pilots must account for the wind-speed, atmospheric conditions and speed of the ship. Pilots follow a yellow light on the flight deck of the ship called the Freshnel Lens to help the trajectory of the approach, called their glide slope, Navy experts have explained to Warrior.
In a previously released document described as the "Naval Aviation Vision," the F-35C is described as being engineered with reinforced landing gear and durable coatings to allow the F-35C to withstand harsh shipboard conditions while delivering a lethal combination of fighter capabilities to the fleet.
The aircraft has gone through several rounds of testing to advance what’s called carrier integration and carrier qualification – an effort to seamlessly integrate the new aircraft into the carrier platform and carrier air wing, service officials have explained.
Assessments of the F-35C 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.
By 2025, the Navy's aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft such as the Navy Osprey tiltrotor aircraft variant.