A squadron of the U.S. Navy's newest fighters is aircraft carrier-qualified and ready to deploy, the Navy said Thursday. The announcement is a milestone for the Pentagon's trillion-dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter weapons program.
The Joint Strike Fighter comes in three variants: the Air Force's "A," the Marine Corps' short takeoff and vertical landing "B" and the carrier-capable "C," which both the Marines and the Navy will operate.
"We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force," said Vice Admiral DeWolfe Miller, the commander of Naval Air Forces, in a statement.
Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, based in Lemoore, California, completed its carrier qualifications on board the then San Diego-based carrier Carl Vinson, said Lt. Travis Callahan, a Naval Air Forces spokesman.
However, carrier qualification is just one aspect of being declared "mission ready." The squadron also had to have 10 operational aircraft and the necessary support equipment, including tools, training manuals and spare parts.
A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II, attached to Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing, the 'Argonauts' of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, completes a flight over Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Feb. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)
On Thursday, the Navy announced the squadron, the VFA 147 "Argonauts," had achieved "Initial Operational Capability," meaning it can join a carrier air wing.
A Marine squadron of F-35Bs recently completed its first combat deployment on board the San Diego-based amphibious assault ship Essex.
The Navy did not say when its F-35s would begin their first carrier air wing deployment.
"We will continue to learn and improve ways to maintain and sustain F-35C as we prepare for first deployment," said Navy Capt. Max McCoy, the commodore of the Navy's Joint Strike Fighter Wing. "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 F-35 represents an advance in technology due to its advanced sensor and computer package. Marine Captain Nathaniel Keegan, an F-35B pilot, told the Union-Tribune during September's Miramar Air Show that the technology on the aircraft allowed the pilot to function as a sort of battlefield quarterback.
"It's a really great aircraft in terms of what we can do with it, what it brings to the table and flying it," he said. "It's a great airplane to fly."
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