By Bijan Razzaghi
The United States Navy has begun intagrating the F-35C platform onto the carrier airwings alongside the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The excercise is one of the final tasks before the F-35C can achieve IOC. The deadline is set for February 2019 yet it is possible for the F-35C to achieve Combat readiness sooner. The integration between the two aircraft is vital for the the carrier air wing. The F-35C was developed to replace the F/A-18C while serving alongside the 4.5 generation F/A-18E/F.
The F-35C introduces new capabilities to the fleet, including the ability to conduct missions in A2/AD environments such as denied airspace and provide ISR and firing solutions for stand off weapons such as the JSOW. In addition the F-35C can conduct stealth strikes on its own making it an effective anti ship platform. The F-35C can also conduct stealth combat air patrols CAP missions being able to carry 4 AIM-120 AMRAAMs internally. This provides an element of surprise against threat aircraft nearing the fleet.
The F-35C has a payload of 18,000 lbs and an operational range of 1200nm, which is similar to its counter part the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This similarity allows the two aircraft to successfully conduct missions in conjunction with one another.
The first operational F-35C sqoudrons will be in the pacific theater where more advanced threats exist. The F-35C alongside the already deployed F-35B will help circumvent Chinese’s air defenses deployed near the South China Sea.