The Navy’s F-35C aircraft joined a carrier air wing for the first cyclic operations aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in Operational Test-1 (OT-1) during August, the Navy said Tuesday.
The F-35Cs are operating alongside Carrier Air Wing 7 and Carrier Strike Group 17.
OT-1 aims to evaluate the full spectrum of the F-35Cs suitability for operation within a carrier air wing and its maximum mission effectiveness, the Navy said.
While the F-35C has previously conducted carrier qualification together, this test was the first time the aircraft joined a carrier air wing for cyclic operations. That means aircraft simulate missions, practice aerial maneuvers, and take off and land continuously with only short pauses for maintenance, fuel, and ordnance changes.
During OT-1, the F-35Cs are flying cyclic operations with F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, and E-2D Hawkeyes, who are all conducting missions they would execute in combat, if required.
This also means the Lincoln’s deck crew, flight control officials, and maintenance personnel have to adapt to the aircraft, balancing its needs with the other aircraft the carrier normally operates.
The Navy said OT-1 is helping the Navy get an assessment of how the F-35s would perform while on deployment, define how well it performs with other aircraft and incorporates into an air plan, identifying the logistics footprint, and monitoring maintenance.
“This is the first time we really see how the aircraft works on the aircraft carrier; how we do maintenance and sustain it while we’re at sea; how it integrates with the ship; how it interoperates with communications, datalinks, the other aircraft; and how we conduct missions and tie in to other aircraft when we conduct missions,” Rear Adm. Dale Horan, director of the Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration Office, said in a statement.
Horan added that the F-35C adds stealth, improved electronic capabilities, and a different sustainment model.
“Operating this new generation of aircraft out on the aircraft carrier brings a different set of tools, techniques and procedures, and we’re learning how to integrate them into the battle group,” he added.
OT-1 evaluators are also looking at the effectiveness of the F-35C in realistic scenarios.
Capt. Matt Norris from the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team said that “the effectiveness piece is what we’re doing when we’re airborne and executing missions.”
The Navy is integrating the F-35C with the strike group and conducting missions like defensive counter-air and anti-submarine warfare, Norris said.
After OT-1 is finished, the Navy said the fighter jet will be one more step toward being deployable in the fleet. The lessons and data taken from OT-1 will set up future F-35C deployments on carriers after the aircraft’s declaration of initial operating capability (IOC). The Navy plans to declare IOC for the aircraft by February 2019.
“The aircraft looks like a naval aircraft on the flight deck. From that perspective, the big picture looks pretty good,” Horan said.
The Lincoln completed its four year-long refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) period last May, when it was updated to become the first carrier capable of accommodating the F-35C (Defense Daily, May 9, 2017). Then this past March CVN-72 finished carrier qualifications for the F-35C (Defense Daily, March 23).
More recently, earlier in August, the Navy said CVN-72 was one of three carriers planned to conduct homeport shifts. Currently based out of Norfolk, Va., the Lincoln is set to join the Pacific Fleet and be homeported in San Diego (Defense Daily, Aug. 3).
The Navy plans future carrier air wings to be made of F-35Cs, Super Hornets, Growlers, Hawkeyes, and MH-60R/S helicopters by 2025.