The F-35C, the last variant of the Joint Strike Fighter to be declared combat ready, will join the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in 2021. The Navy’s first fifth generation fighter will eventually comprise half of the strike fighters based on aircraft carriers, providing a stealthier, longer-range, more capable platform for the 2030s and beyond.
Some time in 2021, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson will slip out of its home port of Naval Base San Diego and head into the Pacific Ocean, carrying with it the first squadron of F-35C Joint Strike Fighters to go to sea. , this will be the Navy F-35’s first official patrol.
The Navy F-35C is the largest of the three Joint Strike Fighters, compared to the Air Force’s F-35A and Marine Corps F-35B. Compared to its siblings the F-35C has larger wings, more robust landing gear to handle arrested landings on a carrier flight deck, and a greater internal fuel capacity. The U.S. Marines also plan to acquire a small number of -C models for carrier operations.
The F-35C still has yet to achieve so-called Initial Operating Capability (IOC), when the first squadron of 10 aircraft and their crews are trained, equipped, and ready to fight. The Air Force declared IOC for the -A variant in August 2016, and the Marines declared their first squadron ready to fight in July 2015. The U.S. Navy hopes to declare IOC for the -C model . The original IOC goal for the -C model was July 2015, but the F-35’s development problems set back the introduction date, to varying degrees, for the entire fleet. All three models are still awaiting full testing by Pentagon's Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).
The U.S. Navy hopes to eventually have . That amounts to about 18 to 20 F-35C squadrons of 10 planes each by the 2030s. The other two squadrons would continue to use F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters.
The Navy needs the F-35C as it refocuses on combat against high-end threats such as China and Russia. Both feature advanced air defense systems, including fifth generation fighters, long range radars, and long range surface-to-air missile systems that would prove a daunting opponent to older fighters. The Navy believes the F-35C will not only be able to penetrate these defenses, it will do so at greater ranges keeping the aircraft carrier safe from threats.