The Navy on Tuesday said it declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) earlier this month.

JPALS is a GPS-based system that integrates with shipboard air traffic control and landing system architecture in order to guide fixed-wing tactical aircraft on to an aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship “with pinpoint approach and landings” in all sea and weather conditions, the Navy said.

The Navy said JPALS reached IOC on May 4.

The Navy awarded Raytheon Technologies [RTX] a $235 million contract for the initial 23 JPALS in 2019 (Defense Daily, May 24, 2019).

“JPALS has reached a historic milestone, which supports our requirement to deliver, operate and maintain a Navy with a focus on our core roles of sea control and power projection,” Cmdr. Jeff “Doogie” Dugard, Director of the Naval Airspace and Air Traffic Control Standards and Evaluation Agency, said in a statement.

The Navy said Dugard worked with the Naval Air Traffic Management Systems Program Office (PMA)-213 to ensure all requirements were met to demonstrate JPALS will safely and effectively support U.S. Navy and Marine Corps at sea.

Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, director of the Air Warfare Division, N98, declared IOC for the JPALS after the successful installation, integration and flight certification of the first JPALS production unit in 2020, which concluded in December 2020.

The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) received the first of a planned 23 initial low-rate initial production (LRIP) JPALS units last year. At the time the Navy said it expected LRIP units to be delivered through fall 2023 (Defense Daily, June 9, 2020).

Following flight certification, the JPALS team worked with the Navy’s operational test community to demonstrate the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter could “effectively conduct at-sea precision approaches to the flight deck” and adequate manning, training and sustainment infrastructure were in place to support and sustain JPALS operations while deployed, the Navy said.

JPALS demonstrations initially began in 2008. The first JPALS carrier landing occurred in 2013 and the system has been supporting F-35B deployments on amphibious assault ships with an early operational capability since 2016.  Five JPALS engineering and development model units were tested in this capacity on the carriers and amphibious ships. 

Now JPALS will support precision navigation, approach and landing for all F-35C deployments on carriers and is set to support future operations with the MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based tanker.

The JPALS IOC was originally scheduled for 2024, followed by full operational capability by 2030.

The service noted IOC was delivered almost a year ahead of schedule amid normal challenges in installing, testing and certifying the new system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The achievement of JPALS IOC is a positive reflection on the hard work, innovation and resilience from a dedicated team of government and industry professionals who have developed and fielded this critical capability to the Warfighters,” Capt. Kevin Watkins, PMA-213 program manager, said in a statement.