Navy's F-35C on Track to Be Combat Ready Next Month

An F-35C Lightning II assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 taxis on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Shane Bryan)
An F-35C Lightning II assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 taxis on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Shane Bryan)

The U.S. Navy is on track to reach critical milestones and declare its F-35 Joint Strike Fighters ready for combat next month.

There have been no reported delays in the service's F-35C reaching initial operating capability (IOC) next month, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Chatmas told Military.com on Friday.

The Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration Office "is confident in meeting milestones as planned," Chatmas said.

While no official February date has been announced, the work "is still on target, still proceeding as planned," she said.

Last month, the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 "Argonauts" out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, completed a critical milestone aboard the USS Carl Vinson, a turning point in reaching IOC for the Navy's stealth jet.

The "Argonauts" are slated to become the service's first operational F-35C squadron. Once IOC ready, VFA-147's first deployment is scheduled aboard the Vinson in 2021.

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The progression comes as the Navy plans to deactivate its F-35 squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and move operations to NAS Lemoore, centralizing its Joint Strike Fighter operations out west.

The JSF program as a whole is continuing its formal operational test phase, which it entered in December.

The Joint Program Office and the aircraft's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., announced Dec. 6 that all three F-35 variants belonging to the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will be field-tested "for the purposes of determining the weapons systems' operational effectiveness and operational suitability for combat."

For example, F-35 pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, California -- home to the Air Force Test Center, which tests a variety of aircraft and weapons -- have flown more than 30 missions since the testing was announced, according to the Air Force.

"Formal Initial Operational Test & Evaluation will test the system and identify areas for improvement in the most stressing operationally representative environments," JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova said last month.

Pilots, maintainers, engineers and Lockheed Martin officials, among other experts, will work with the JPO and the Defense Department to identify operational and technical areas that could be upgraded or enhanced.

The IOT&E testing is expected to be complete late this summer, DellaVedova said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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